Sex Work and Human Rights

Should we accept sex work?

The above video is an excerpt from the South Korean talk show WITH, which discusses social and economic issues from the perspectives of women. The topic of this issue was the constitutional review of South Korea’s Anti-Sex Trade Law. [1] The moderator is Seung Yeon Oh, a professor at Korea University. In this video, she is speaking with Yeoni Kim, a sex worker activist with Giant Girls, Network for Sex Workers’ Rights. To allow a wider audience to learn first-hand about the situation of sex workers in South Korea, Research Project Korea provides you with an English translation of this video with kind permission by Yeoni Kim.

Title: ‘Is the Anti-Sex Trade Law unconstitutional?’

Panellist: Yeoni Kim, Sex Worker Activist at Giant Girls, Network for Sex Workers’ Rights Link
Moderator: Seung Yeon Oh, Professor at Korea University
TV Station: MBC; Air Date: January 21st, 2013

Seung Yeon Oh: Could you explain to us why you started working as a sex worker?

Yeoni Kim: I left home before I finished high school and I started working while I was a university student. The usual part time jobs that college students can take required too many working hours and paid too little and it was impossible for me to continue working and studying at the same time. I looked for a job with more flexible hours and a higher income and that is why I started to work at the Miari Texas red light district. As time went on, I began to like working as a sex worker, and it gave me some kind of pride. Then I quit college and started working as a sex worker full-time.

Oh: The term ‘sex worker’ sounds foreign to the general public. Is there a particular reason why you refer to yourself using the term ‘sex worker’?

Kim: It may seem strange to others, but the change in the term is important to me. The word [2] was first used in Korea in 2005 during a sex workers’ convention. Sex workers wanted to change the terminology in use. I first came across the term ‘sex worker’ in 2010. Before that, I actually stigmatised myself by using terms that referred to me as a second-class human being. Now I feel proud of myself and I am content with what I do, and the only reason I am covering my face with a mask when I’m on TV is to protect the people who are close to me. Usually, I show my face in public when I give lectures or participate in protests.

Oh: So the word ‘prostitution’ stigmatises people?

Kim: We are trying to change all the words that carry social stigma.

Oh: To what degree do you think sex workers are being discriminated in the society?

Kim: One example are bank loans. Banks ask for your occupation when they process one’s loan application, and when you reply, “I am a sex worker.”, you will be asked to explain what that means. If you explain that sex work is selling sex to earn money, the application will be refused even if your credit history is excellent. The same goes for insurances. Sex work is seen as a highly hazardous occupation, and so sex workers are denied insurance coverage.

Oh: What do you think about the constitutional appeal?

Kim: I think of it as a first step. Gradually, the clients of sex workers and brothel owners should be decriminalized, too. There are many concerns surrounding this matter. Male and transgender sex workers should be included in the discussion.

Oh: Thank you for your time.

Footnotes

[1] At the time of this publication, South Korea’s Anti-Sex Trade Law is under constitutional revision. For further details, please refer to the following articles.

Korea’s sex trade in legal limbo | Asian Correspondent Link
Appeal on anti-prostitution law filed with Korea`s top court | Donga Ilbo Link

[2] Refers to ‘seongnodongja’, the Korean term for ‘sex worker’.

One response

  1. Pingback: A Letter from a South Korean Sex Worker « Research Project Korea

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