Poverty, violence, and harassment pushed them

Disclaimer: The following is a totally unauthoritative personal translation of an article appeared in <The Hankyoreh 21> on Jan. 16, 2012, reporting an analysis of reasons and paths runaway youths are drawn into the sex industry based on a report by an official institution. All rights regarding this post stay with the original author of the article or with <The Hankyoreh 21> and this post will be scrapped immediately at 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. The original article of this post (in Korean) can be found in the link at the bottom.

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

Causes and paths youths are drawn to sex industry according to the report ‘Risk factors affecting prostitution of runaway youths and their protection’


» To runaway youths, prostitution is an enticing chance for making money. A scene of movie <Samaria> which dealt with youth prostitution directly.

Top: Youth groups. Orange (A group), teenagers that do not have any runaway or prostitution experience; blue (B group), teenagers that have runaway but not the prostitution experience; gray (C group), teenagers that have both runaway and prostitution experiences. Middle: Table 1. Prostitution experience difference among teenagers. Economic background (respondents’ subjective judgement). Top class, 3.2% (62 respondents; 2 among teenagers). Middle class, 9.0% (760 respondents, 69 among teenagers). Bottom class, 24.3% (103 respondents, 25 among teenagers). Bottom: Table 2. Proportion of teenagers who live with their own parents. Orange (A group), 77.5% (450 / 581); blue (B group), 33.0% (92 / 279); gray (C group), 19.6% (19 / 97).

Why do our children walk into the prostitution? <Hankyoreh 21> obtained the report ‘Risk factors affecting prostitution of runaway youths and their protection’ that Women’s Human Rights Commission of Korea published on last Jan. 5. This report analyzed the reasons and paths teenagers were drawn into the prostitution. They surveyed 587 senior middle school girl students sampled from 20 schools across the country and 383 ‘street youths’ that were staying in institutions like runaway youth shelters during Aug. ~ Sep. last year. Among them, 100 turned out to have been exposed to prostitution. When we compared the replies from those who had been exposed to prostitution in their young ages with those not, we could vaguely draw the paths some of the youths reached the prostitution.

Top: Table 3. Proportion of youths that have sexual violence experience. Orange (A group), 5.3% (31 / 580); blue (B group), 16.3% (45 / 276); gray (C group), 55.2% (53 / 96). Middle: Table 4. Proportion of youths experiencing sexual violence after runaway according to whether they experienced sexual violence before runaway or not. Gray (with sexual violence experience before runaway), 56.3% (18 / 32); Black (without sexual violence experience before runaway), 28.1% (16 / 57). Bottom: Table 5. Age at first prostitution (Total: 96). (clockwise from the top) Age 13-, 6.2% (6); age 14, 9.3% (9); age 15, 22.7% (22); age 16, 25.8% (25); age 17+, 36.1% (25).

First prostitution for ages 13 or below, 6.2%

According to the report, poverty is the major variable that pushes young girls to runaway and prostitution (Table 1). In the survey, those who answered ‘my family is in economically low class’ had 7 times higher possibility to walk into prostitution than those from high class. Also, those from low class had three times high possibility to runaway (74.6%) than those from high class.

The influence of familial ties was very strong (Table 2). Youths without any runaway or prostitution experience (A group) had about 4 times high probability to live with their own parents than those with both runaway and prostitution experiences (C group). Teens with runaway experience without prositution (B group) marked also low in the cohabitance with their own parents.

Top: Table 6. Reasons for prostitution (Total: 96). (counter-clockwise from the top) Needed living expenses after runaway, 68.7% (68); forced by peers, 9.1% (9); short of pocket money, 2% (2); out of curiosity, 4% (4); out of despair, 3% (3); to earn money for family living, 1% (1); friends asked me to come along, 6.1% (6); needed money to buy something really necessary, 6.1% (6). Bottom: Table 7. Paths to prostitution (Total: 96). (counter-clockwise from the top) Chatting, 84.7% (83); karaoke, 1.0% (1); forced by peers, 3.1% (3); direct contact (in the streets, pubs, nightclubs, etc.), 4.1% (4); illegal brokerage, 2.0% (2); introduction by peers, 2.0% (2); introduction by friends, 2.0% (2); none of the above, 1% (1).

Sexual violence experience also affected the runaway youths’ paths. The sexual violence experience was 10 times higher in C group than in A group (Table 3). And, sexual violence experience before runaway strongly affected damages from sexual violence after runaway (Table 4). The report pointed out “although public anger erupted to sexual crimes against very young children like those in Cho Doo-soon incident or Kim Soon-cheol incident, our social interest on sexually harassed youths is relatively low. That’s because there are double standards about ‘youth prostitution’ in Korean society. That is to say, although they regard youths involved in prostitution as victims, some still dominantly consider them as ‘delinquent youths’. Which means that they simply finger those youths without looking at the reason of their ostensible ‘delinquency’.”

To the youths in the street, 17 or older (36.1%) were the most prevalent age of their first prostitution (Table 5). However, it was shocking that 6 of 96 responders (6.2%) had started prostitution at ages 13 or below. The interpretation is gloomier. The report explained “In 2009 study, only 3% started prostitution at ages 13 or below. This is in line with the lowering age of youth prostitution.”

Table 8: Part time job experience during runaway period. Blue (B group), 57.2% (155 / 271); gray (C group), 71.6% (68 / 96). Table 9: Violence experience during runaway period. Blue (B group), 12.1% (30 / 282); gray (C group), 31.9% (30 / 94). Table 10: Harshly teased experience during runaway period. Blue (B group), 1.2% (3 / 248); gray (C group), 13.8% (13 / 94). Table 11: violence participation experience during runaway period. Blue (B group), 47.0% (116 / 247); gray (C group), 47.9% (45 / 94). Table 12: Self-respect index. Orange (A group), 2.85; blue (B group), 2.71; gray (C group), 2.60.

Particularly low self-respect

What will be the characteristics of those youths who start prostitution among the same runaway peers? The C group who did prostitution was high in working part time jobs (Table 9) but was rather higher than the B group in suffering street violence or teasing (Tables 9 and 10). Aslo, self-respect was also low compared with other groups (Table 12). The report indicated “We identified that, among the runaway youths, there were groups who suffered more damages and others who suffered less damages. And those who experienced prostitution were among the group who suffered more damages.” This means that there are so-called ‘peer pimps’ among the runaway youths and weaker group of youths who are forced to do the prostitution. This means that girls who do the prostitution are more probable to become victims even among the ‘street youths’.

김기태 기자 kkt@hani.co.kr

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