Sunday, November 28, 2010

The face of modern slavery in the sex industry

Writing in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof has a piece that illustrates how many women in the sex industry in America are not in it voluntarily, regardless of what many people — especially their customers — would like to believe. Nor are they necessarily illiterate dupes or drug addicts. He uses a Chosŏnjok (ethnic Korean in China) as an example of this "modern slavery":
Yumi Li (a nickname) grew up in a Korean area of northeastern China. After university, she became an accountant, but, restless and ambitious, she yearned to go abroad.

So she accepted an offer from a female jobs agent to be smuggled to New York and take up a job using her accounting skills and paying $5,000 a month. Yumi’s relatives had to sign documents pledging their homes as collateral if she did not pay back the $50,000 smugglers’ fee from her earnings.

Yumi set off for America with a fake South Korean passport. On arrival in New York, however, Yumi was ordered to work in a brothel.

“When they first mentioned prostitution, I thought I would go crazy,” Yumi told me. “I was thinking, ‘how can this happen to someone like me who is college-educated?’ ” Her voice trailed off, and she added: “I wanted to die.”

She says that the four men who ran the smuggling operation — all Chinese or South Koreans — took her into their office on 36th Street in Midtown Manhattan. They beat her with their fists (but did not hit her in the face, for that might damage her commercial value), gang-raped her and videotaped her naked in humiliating poses. For extra intimidation, they held a gun to her head.

If she continued to resist working as a prostitute, she says they told her, the video would be sent to her relatives and acquaintances back home. Relatives would be told that Yumi was a prostitute, and several of them would lose their homes as well.

Yumi caved. For the next three years, she says, she was one of about 20 Asian prostitutes working out of the office on 36th Street. Some of them worked voluntarily, she says, but others were forced and received no share in the money.
These stories are not new, but they bear repeating. Whether it's Filipinas or Russians in Korea or Japan, or Chinese or Koreans in America, there are some real tragedies behind the faces of prostitution.


  1. Thanks for posting this. My friend Justin made a documentary on this very topic. Check it out.

  2. Back in Korea, there is a thriving prostitution industry that is de facto legal. The government cares whether the women have or might spread STDs, but it does little more to help the women stuck in that industry, including those who have been duped or coerced into it.

    In the past, it was a common idea that women in the sex industry were kidnapped (!), duped, or somehow coerced (loan sharks, blackmail following a rape, etc.). But that has been replaced by a narrative of most (?) of the women choosing it as a way to get financial independence and/or a lavish lifestyle.

    And while that might actually be true for some (but I really don't know now), there still remains the uncomfortable fact of all these women from the Philippines, Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union, etc., who often are duped, coming in on E-6 "entertainer" visas perhaps thinking they will be singing in some night club somewhere.

    There are groups and even government agencies that do give a rat's ass, but they are up against a wall of corrupt and violent pimps. The most that happens nowadays is that they announce this red-light district or that will be redeveloped, so they've got one, two, three years to go find other work.

    And the public accepts this. Prostitution is a necessary evil so we turn a blind eye, but there's too much shame attached to it for society to push to have it legalized and regulated above board. About the only thing of importance that gets done is that the government is not willing to tolerate underage prostitution.

  3. Kuoshibao, as this case has shown, many of the illegals are Chinese with fake South Korean passports which is becoming a huge problem. I wonder why you don't do a story on this. The fake passport holders can be Joseonjok ethnic Koreans or pure Chinese. Now these days there are not many South Koreans who want to illegally enter the US. The ones who are there now were went there for a long time. Now South Korea has a far better economy so there's no point to go to the US to work as 3D workers washing dishes and be victims of violent crimes and racial discrimination. So please don't try to exaggerate the illegal Korean problem so that you can be sensational.

  4. "Prostitution is a necessary evil so we turn a blind eye, but there's too much shame attached to it for society to push to have it legalized and regulated above board".

    Above board? Eh? I will never be okay with legalizing prostitution. I will never be okay with a woman selling her body for money. You have to have the worst self-esteem in the world to chose this profession and I wish that on nobody.

  5. Tom, this might be old news to you, but your are mistaken if you think it isn't still happening. It even ran on "20/20" in the U.S. showing how these young, naive South Korean girls and women are being used and discarded as nothing more than trash by older South Korean women (and some men). Sadly, it doesn't matter where the girls are from, there will always be evil people who use and abuse them.


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