[Special reportage- part III] Runaways' prostitution

Posted on : 2012-10-29 14:15 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Out of desperation and coercion, runaways fall into sex work as a means to support themselves

By Um Ji-won, staff reporter

Hye-ri closed her eyes with shame. “Only a couple minutes and it's over,” she thought.

It was done on a mid-summer afternoon. A man around her father’s age was her customer. The one and a half hours in the musty dark motel room felt like forever to Hye-ri, 14. When the time was up, she put on her clothes as fast as she could. ‘Do I really have to do this?’ she thought. Her body throbbed with pain all over and she felt ashamed that she had to do this for money.

Last spring, Hye-ri ran away from home because she could no longer stand her parents fighting. As she didn’t have any money, she couldn’t go to a jjimjilbang (a Korean public bathhouse where patrons can bathe and sleep overnight). But she couldn’t sleep on the streets, so she met another runaway on the internet and they strolled around the shopping malls around Dongdaemun. She ate as much as she could whenever she could get money, which she did by intimidating the other kids into giving up what they had. With no reliable way to get money, she ate only sporadically.

Hye-ri also tried to find part-time work, but after 5 hours of putting more than 100 ads around, she only got 5000 won per day. There was no job for a runaway middle schooler.

Hye-ri went back home for a while, then ran away again in August. From her last stint as a runaway, Hye-ri learned some survival skills from her street friends. They told her that she had to be taken in by a runaway family. If she could be accepted by one of these families, they would take care of her.

Anyway, Hye-ri didn’t trust adults. “All the adults I knew hit me on the back of my head and disappointed me every time,” she said. Because she didn’t trust adults, she never considered seeking help at a shelter; the idea of peers taking care of each other was more appealing.

Hye-ri went to an internet cafe and posted ‘Looking for a runaway family’ on a website. Shortly after, there was a message from a runaway family in Wonju, Gangwon Province. “We don’t make you to do anything weird. Come here and feel safe.” Though she didn’t know why, Hye-ri trusted the message and took a bus to Wonju.

The runaway family was composed of 6 teenagers. They wandered from one motel to another. Every runaway family had a leader. In this case, Hyeok-jae, 19, was the patriarch of the group. He said, “There is something we are working on, and don’t think it’s bad or anything”. As Hye-ri thought that they would ‘take care’ of her in a good way, these words left her shaken. She couldn’t speak at all for 5 minutes.

Heokjae glared at Hye-ri fiercely. “Don’t try to think- answer us right now. If you don‘t do it, we won’t have any food or anywhere to stay.” If she left the runaway family’s motel room, she would have nowhere to go. She also thought that it wasn’t fair for her to eat the meals that she was provided without contributing anything.

Hye-ri went to the place to meet a guy as Hyeok-jae told her to. Hye-ri did ‘prostitution with special conditions’ for the first time.

After that day, Hyeok-jae ordered Hye-ri to do it at any time. The other 3 girls in the runaway family were doing it before her. Every morning, the runaway family goes to an internet cafe. While the girls play games, the boys look for the ‘jobs’. The boys pretended to be girls in online chatrooms. As soon as the chatrooms open, men rushed in.

The price was about 150,000 won for one and a half hours. The boys didn’t just negotiate the price, but also the conditions. It was a talk about ‘X is okay, but you can’t do Y’. The girls are told the conditions only after going in to the motel room. Hye-ri thought that it was too tough for her. But her leader reacted angrily to her reluctance. “You are not the only one struggling here. Don‘t you ever think about the others?”

But still Hye-ri did not go back home.“The guys from the runaway family were more reliable than adults. I joined a runaway family because there are no adults I can trust.” The girls are afraid of losing the runaway family and feel that this is their last option. The girls continue their street life enduring the prostitution.

A-young, 14, a street friend of Hye-ri, has avoided sex work. “If I think of my Dad, I can’t do any prostitution. Instead, I have done ‘kiss jobs’ a few times.” When she opens a chatting room with the title ‘16 girl looking for kiss jobs’, men rushed in to it.

However, the forced prostitution was not the only threat to the street girls.


Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]


Translated by Lee Choon-geun, Hankyoreh English intern

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