“My body was just a tool to earn money”

Disclaimer: The following is a totally unauthoritative personal translation of an article appeared in <The Hankyoreh21> on Jan. 16, 2012, as a fourth piece of Report on Korea sex industry special, Youth Prostitution. The report contains a true miraculous story of a runaway youth who eventually became an online counsellor for youths like her in the past: ran-away from home, have to sell their bodies for food and places to sleep, but don’t know how to turn away from their hellish lives. All rights regarding this post stay with the author of original article or with <The Hankyoreh21> and this post will be scrapped immediately with their request. Although I personally paid much effort to make translations of names of people and institutions / job titles in the post as authentic as possible, there are inevitably translations that will not match their authentic English translations. Original article of this post (in Korean) can be found in the link at the bottom.

[Special – Report on Korea sex industry ④ Youth Prostitution]

Reconstruction of a prostitution victim Ms. K’s experience … Runaway to escape from domestic violence, life on prostitution, and revival as a counsellor who soothes her peers of the same wounds

Reporter Ha Eo-yeong 하어영


» Ms. K, an online youth counsellor, crisscrosses the youth prostitution scenes that are rampant in the internet for 6 hours a day. <Haykyoreh21> Jeong Yong-il 정용일

The fourth story of “Report on Korea sex industry” is about ‘youth prostitution’. Despite its seriousness, the whole scale of youth prostitution has not been identified in numerical terms. One can estimate the whole scale roughly by some media report that the total number of runaway youths can reach about 200,000. Of course this kind of estimate is not right since it can bring about the so-called ‘branding effect’ for runaway youths.

In mid Dec. last year, I visited a representative ‘youth shelter’ to know the reality of youth prostitution and met Ms. K. She works as a counsellor now. After 2 hours of interview, I participated in her online counseling. Based on this, I reconstructed her years 2010 and 2011.


2AM. Nothing popped up on her mind. It just happened. That ‘jerk’, finishing it, suddenly ran away without paying for it. She chased him to the street. But, all at once, she could not remember his face. Really, like magic, nothing popped up on her mind. She could not even remember the feeling, from top of her head to bottom of her feet. She could not move her feet a bit. Tears burst. She dropped down to the ground. 2010 summer, at six months of runaway. She was too much hungry and started this. She could not go back to her home; she was scared of the beatings. She got beaten up by her father when he was drunk. Her brother who was addicted to games also beat her when games were not going well. Her brother who had hated her father was very much like her father and overcame him. She was scared of getting hurt; she could not go back home. Now, she didn’t have anywhere else to go. This was the end. She hit the bottom, the marble pavement. Blood gathered on her fist.

Prostitution, something that she started to eat and live

It was the second time that day. In both cases, she could not remember their faces. At the first time, she thought it might be because she was at a loss. At the second time, she just cried; there was nothing she could do. She felt like killing herself, but she could not even do that as she liked; a new life was in her friend B’s body and she wanted to live with her who understood and cherished her with all her heart. B got pregnant because she saw men to stay with K. Before a new life in her friend’s body, she could not kill herself.

“Let’s call it quits.”

She told B, at five months of runaway. She just went back to her home. All family members were dumbfounded. Their daughter who returned at 6 months of runaway was holding a pregnant friend’s hand. Family accepted them from K’s unflinching posture. However, such an unstable cohabitance did not last long. Above all, it was not an environment to bear a new life. So, they searched internet again.

“How come we found this just now!”

Finding a shelter for unmarried mothers, they hugged with each other. It reminded them of the first time they had searched internet for something to eat and live.

They didn’t sell their bodies from the beginning. They started as parking lot temporary workers of a big mart. It was the happiest times. But, daily pays of parking lot temporary workers were barely enough to make payments for Korean dry sauna and daily foods. They had to change it, rather than Korean dry sauna, to internet cafe couple seats and, rather than rice, to instant noodles. However, their humble clothes made them easily outstanding. Managers nagged them all the time and they could not but to quit those jobs.

Sitting side by side again in internet cafes, they looked for part time things. They soon got an enticing proposal; they would get a one-room for 800K KRW a month with 800K KRW deposits in return to a part-time job, singing in karaoke rooms. When they opened a chatting room in a chatting site ‘budybudy’ early in the morning, part time job proposals like that piled up in seconds. Until that time, they just declined such proposals with a vague idea ‘it won’t work out’. But, there was no other option. It was B at first. Instead of drinking and singing, however, B said she would take the ‘phony lover’ thing. In fact, money from karaoke singing helper barely met the living expenses and room payments. Since ‘phony lover’ thing paid 200K KRW each time, they thought it would be possible to pay up the monthly room payments and deposits they had borrowed by simple two or three outings a week. They got it all wrong. Psychological recovery of the humility and helplessness from an outing took several days. After all, they were kicked out of the room for not paying the rent. They started in internet cafe couple seats looking for phony lover and conditional love making things again. Daily lives started from the evening. When they earned money, they were able to use a motel room, bathing and sleeping during the afternoon. And, they could eat. Or, being unable to pay the fee, they were kicked out of the internet cafes.


» I participated in an online counseling with Ms. K. A youth who were cursing when being talked to  eventually took the shelter’s address. Ms. K got a feeble thread to become a mentor of another possible delinquent youth. <Hankyoreh21> Jeong Yong-il 정용일

Day after day passed by like that for about two months, and B’s belly began to swell up. She got pregnant. From that moment, K got to the streets. “B did that for me, for us to live together. So I thought it is quite reasonably my turn.”

In the middle of the interview, K left for a while saying thirsty. Five minutes later, she came back and poured out her experience.

“People, no, the grown-ups put me up to use my body like that. At that time, I didn’t have to come back home; I could live with someone I loved. They wanted me like that.”

“At that time, I was a tool, a tool to earn money. I had to earn money myself using my body to buy food and to find places to sleep.”

“Do you think prostitution is an easy way of earning money? No, it’s not. There’s no other thing I can do. For an hour or two, I imagine I am not here. Then, I get 100K KRW. I don’t want to live like this but I can’t say it aloud. If I show any hint of it, he (the buyer) just takes off. Then, I cannot eat any food.”

“I am a doll. I am just a doll. I am a machine, and I become a man again after this time. I can eat food and have a cozy sleep with someone I love. So, I am a doll. I think like that for a while.”

K recalled it a ‘miracle’ to find a shelter. At first, most don’t know anything about shelters. Even if they know the existence of shelters, rumors like ‘it is a place where spooky guys come’, or ‘it is like a prison where we can’t do anything because of regulations’ circulate all the time. In fact, at a youth counselling office that she happened to find out at about a month of her runaway, K almost got mugged of her pennies and clothes but managed to escape it. “When I got strong, it was nothing.” How much those times must have roughed her up? She came to the youth shelter from a suggestion by a youth counseling office.

“I cannot understand myself like that. B, for giving birth, had to enter a center for unmarried moms, and I, after parting with B, came to a youth shelter. When I come to think of myself, even I cannot understand myself at all.”

K still dreams time to time. She looks herself toiling out. A very anguished outlook. It’s very hard to bear anymore. With full of frowns, she brings up low pitch groans. And she wakes up. It happens almost every day since she came to the shelter. When she wakes up like that, she cannot sleep again. She just cries. Something really hard to translate in words swells up in her, and tears flow out of her; she cannot do anything else.

“When young, my mom was not there when I woke up while sleeping. Still dark, but my mom was not there so I just cried. But, no body came and I fell asleep again.”

When she recalls her young days, she cannot smile. And, memories are all tangled up. Those entangled memories are not unrelated to her psychological wounds. When K first came to the shelter and explained things that she had gone through, she could not recall them in a chronological order. Everything was mixed up; how she came to run away from home, what happened after that, and what kind of troubles she had to suffer.


» Prostitution victim youths are explaining their own experiences. 8 out of 10 youths who were exposed to prostitution suffer from lingering trauma. <Hankyoreh21> Tak Ki-hyeong 탁기형

Memories entangled with wounds

“There are only beginnings and ends.”

It had taken over six months for her to be able to explain her experience from start to end as she did in interviews with the reporter. But that was not still enough to fully regain her self-confidence. “I am much better now.” Now, she works for youngsters who are in similar situations like her; she became an online counsellor. Hovering around online chatting sites, she directly talks to those who are in similar circumstances like her in just two years ago, runaway youths, in particular those who live on prostitution and draws them to shelters. In the cyberspace, she works as a stepping stone for wandering youths.

After the interview, I sat with Ms. K in front of a computer monitor. We connect to a chatting site. In a window of the chatting site, a public notice like “We are, through internal/external monitering, detecting illegal/obscene activities …” is posted. As soon as Ms. K opens a chatting room, someone talks to her.

“160/45/early 93/all night x move x car x”

This represents height, weight, age and conditions for selling her body. The sun has not set yet. “Since there is someone who wants to buy 24 hours, there is someone to sell.” It is a message for conditional love making; all nighter is not possible, neither moving to somewhere other than the meeting place, nor using a car. It happened in a blinking moment. To reporter still in surprise, she smiles, “You seem shocked.”

“People, looking at these postings, may think that youths do this voluntarily, but it’s not. They make this beforehand to the demands of grown-ups (sex buyers) and simply copy & paste it. To runaway children, they have to live by it and, of course, it is not a single shot. There are things they should avoid and there are things that they should do even though they would rather die.”

The sentences that look like advertisements were actually “the minimum guidelines to protect themselves.” All at once, Ms. K attaches a sentence she had prepared just below the sentences just popped up. It is a web flyer Saenal Youth Shelter prepared. But this is not all. Recently, though resemble innocent youths, there are many cases where illegal prostitution parlors post those messages in an organized way.

“Hello. We are peer counsellers that interview and help friends who ran away from home or had to resort to prostitution for basic needs. We provide a place to sleep safely, job search service, legal supports, medical services, personal counseling, etc. …”

We got cold answers.

“F*** off.”

Cursing continues for a long while. To rude curses that made reporter sitting next to her blushing, Ms. K just cynically smiles. “Mostly, it’s like this. I am not surprised.” Her view toward them is placid. “Most are victims of bad family environment. I don’t think we should treat them cold like that.” As a victim of such a two-layered prejudice, she knows the pain very well. At that moment, the other side who acted cold replied “leave the contact info in a message.” Ms. K smiles “At this, I guess I can do a candid conversation next time.”

A nineteen-year-old veteran counsellor with full of dreams

For five hours from 10AM to 4PM, about 60 counsellors work for a month. During peak times like summer vacation season, they work extra one or two hours more. This is not the number of people that talk to those online youths; these are those who can help them and get positive responses from them. The day reporter worked with Ms. K, one youth asked for help from somewhere nearby and one counsellor was dispatched to the place. Owing to this project that had started from May. last year, more than 50 youths visited shelters through online. This number is an astonishing accomplishment that has never been possible before for the shelter who has been involved in youth prostitution problem so far. Ms. K is a veteran among them. To a lady who has more time to spend than spent so far, what roads will her life unfold before her? Instead of answers, she smiles shyly. To a reporter’s remark “The balsam color on your little finger nail looks really pretty”, she murmurs “flattering” but, out of shy, does not what to do. She is surely nineteen-year-old girl with full of dreams. Her dream is a criminal profiler. Right now, she is the best online youth counsellor.

Ha Eo-yeong 하어영 기자 (haha@hani.co.kr)


Psychological health of youths exposed to prostitution

8 out of 10 suffer from trauma

Youth prostitution eats away their souls. Their wilderness-turned souls are numerically revealed in a <Hankyoreh21> obtained report ‘2011 psychological health conditions of prostitution victim women and support plans’ by Korea Women’s Human Rights Institute. It contains a study result of 106 adolescent or youth prostitution victims in general support facilities or youth support facilities.

One number that deserves the most attention is the ‘suicidal urge’. Among the respondents, 64% experienced suicidal urges. It’s about twice the suicidal urge (38%) of our people (aged over 15). It’s all the more serious because such urges escalate into actual trials. Among those who suffered suicidal urges, more than half (62%) actually tried to commit suicides. These youths marked very high scores in ‘hostility’ and ‘anti-personal sensitivity’, which enables us to infer where their suicidal urges come from.

It is revealed that 8 out of 10 suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. The report indicates that the longer they were exposed to prostitution, the graver their symptoms grow. The reason why the trauma remains long and deep in them can be understood from the frequency of violence they experienced. Among the prostitution victim women, those who experienced violence reach as much as 80%. But, among youths, it is 100%. When youths walk into the bondage of prostitution, they, without exception, experience violence. Considering the fact that the period they were exposed to prostitution is substantially low (12 months) compared with that of those institutionalized in general support facilities (5 years 6 months), we can assess the frequency and level of exposure to violence.

Will it be possible for them to feel the risk by themselves and escape from it? Will it be possible for them to recognize the hellish reality of their lives and go back to their family by themselves? Ms. K who <Hankyoreh21> interviewed said “thinking back, my home was more like hell.” Like what she said, we cannot force them to go back home unilaterally. Although we should respect their individual circumstances and judgements, it is a society’s responsibility to prepare ‘spaces for them to take shelter’. However, taking shelter is possible only when they possess the ability to judge. The report points out that more than 70% of them show symptoms of learned helplessness (due to external factors). As the youth prostitution is left unmanaged, it gets more difficult for them to get away from it by themselves.

Although the psychological scars are this deep, mere 39% of those who chose support facilities had neuropsychiatry therapy experience (general support facility 62%). Even among those who had therapy experience, the satisfaction rate was remarkably low. ‘Unsatisfactory’ answers were 20%, which is more than twice the rate among general prostitution victim women. The report clearly indicates the need for youth specialized expert counseling.

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