Response to an image posted by user A (@BigEasy_A, see below) in the comment thread underneath Susan Sarandon’s somewhat surprising, yet welcome about-face (she had previously lend her support to Cambodian prostitution abolitionist Somaly Mam, disgraced in 2014 for fabricating stories to raise funds).
Sources used for the above image include “Language Matters: Talking About Sex Work” by Chez Stella, “The Decriminalisation of Third Parties” by NSWP, and “Unfair labour arrangements and precarious working conditions in the sex industry” by ICRSE.
Film still from Grace Period (2015). Courtesy of Caroline Key and Kim KyungMook.
By YuJin, Popho E.S. Bark-Yi, and Matthias Lehmann
South Korea introduced a raft of new laws against sex work in 2004. These repressive policies are now up for constitutional review due to the intense reaction by sex workers there.
First-time visitors to South Korea may easily assume that selling sex is legal there, as major train stations are typically engulfed by an array of neon signs inviting patrons to enter massage parlors, noraebangs (lit. a ‘singing room’, essentially the same as a Japanese karaoke bar), and brothels. Media reports frequently quote statistics about the alleged net worth of the South Korean sex industry. However, laws repressing sex work are almost as ubiquitous as commercial sex venues themselves, particularly after 2004, when South Korea adopted the anti-sex trade Laws.
Between 2000 and 2002, a series of fires in Korea killed 24 sex workers, exposing the poor conditions in parts of its sex industry. In response, the government vowed to eradicate prostitution and embarked on an aggressive campaign against businesses facilitating it. Riding the wave of public outrage, women’s rights activists campaigned for a legal reform and their proposals eventually served as blueprints for the two-tiered anti-sex trade laws, which criminalise both buyers and sellers of sexual acts, except for anyone coerced into selling sex.
The new legislation reversed decades of de facto toleration of sex work by regulators and law enforcement. The anti-sex trade laws of 2004 replaced the Law Against Morally Depraved Behaviors (prostitution) of 1961, which wasn’t enforced homogeneously, and previously, even the government had actively engaged in organising commercial sex venues to cater to US military personnel stationed on the Korean peninsula.
The anti-sex trade laws have caused many negative, allegedly unintended consequences. According to a 2012 UN report, “police crackdowns from 2004-2009 resulted in [the] arrest of approximately 28,000 sex workers, 150,000 clients, and 27,000 sex business owners”, and 65,621 arrests were reported for 2009 alone. As researcher Sook Yi Oh Kim states, “the average prosecution rate of sex workers is 26.3%, higher than that of sex buyers, and none of the sex workers arrested are treated as victims”. Police crackdowns have led to an overall reduction of red-light districts. Of 69 red-light districts that existed in 2002, 44 remained by 2013. This represented a slight increase from 2007, when a government-commissioned report had located 35.
Police raids are often carried out very violently, and in November 2014, a 24-year old single mother died after jumping out of a motel room to escape arrest by an undercover police officer posing as client. In stark contrast to their usual reporting, most Korean media remained distinctively silent about the case. The continued repression has forced an increasing number of sex workers to work underground, resulting in lower incomes, poorer working conditions, and an increase in violence perpetrated against them. Sex workers worry more about police raids than about screening their clients, an essential measure, as violence or mistreatment from clients are very common. A substantial number migrates to sell sex abroad, at times under exploitative conditions, as they calculate that conditions in Korea threaten them at least to the same extent but yield considerably lower earnings.
Giant Girls and Hanteo against the law
Two organisations actively campaign for the rights of sex workers and against the laws. One is Hanteo, the National Union of Sex Workers, and the other is Giant Girls. Hanteo, which means ‘common ground’, was founded in 2004 and represents 15,000 sex workers as well as some brothel owners. Giant Girls, or GG, was founded in 2009 by a group of feminists along with a number of sex worker activists. GG aims at building a stronger sex worker movement to mobilise against the criminalisation of sex work, in part by working to remove the social stigma attached to sex work.
Yujin started selling sex online five years ago, in order to afford his tuition fees. YuJin self-identifies as a gay sex worker and is a member of GG. Prior to his entrance into the business he had never met anybody who was ‘out’ as a sex worker, and he knew nothing about how to work. Since all aspects of sex work are illegal in Korea, beginners often feel isolated and lack basic work and safety information. Yujin decided to tweet about his experience soon after he started working, which brought him into contact with other sex workers. Like him, these other sex workers did not ‘act immorally to earn easy money’, as the prejudice would have it, but worked hard, albeit without being respected as workers and citizens.
In 2005, sex workers established 29 June as the national day of solidarity with sex workers, coinciding with the date on which the laws were passed. Resistance from sex workers has taken many other forms. Protests organised by Hanteo in 2011 gained worldwide notoriety, as they culminated in dramatic scenes at the Yeondeungpo red-light district in Seoul, where some activists threatened to self-immolate as the confrontation with the police escalated. The events are well documented in the film Grace Period by Caroline Key and KyoungMook Kim.
In 2013, District Court Judge Won Chan Oh submitted a request for a constitutional review of the laws after accepting the argument made by sex worker Jeong Mi Kim that sex work fell under her right to self-determination. Therefore, in sentencing her for selling sex the state had violated article 10 of the Korean constitution, which holds that “all citizens shall be assured of their human worth and dignity and shall have the right to pursue happiness”.
This opened a window for a phase of much more intense sex worker activism. In April 2015, sex workers and activists staged a protest in front of the constitutional court where a public hearing was held as part of the review. They submitted a petition signed by nearly 900 sex workers arguing that the government had no right to “use criminal punishment to discourage voluntary sex among adults”. The following June, GG organised a forum to draw further attention to the fact that “these laws are not simply laws that aim to punish buyers and sellers of sexual services, but have far wider implications … encompass[ing] social issues including sexual morality, sexual self-determination, and the right to choose one’s vocation”.
Sex worker activist Yeoni Kim once said in an interview with Matthias (one of the present authors) that, “the Swedish model is terrible, violates sex workers’ rights, and adds to the stigmatisation of sex work. But, frankly speaking, one could almost say it would be better to have that terrible law than having to continue fearing arrests and police violence under the anti-sex trade laws.” Hearing one of the most seasoned Korean sex worker activists prefer a slightly less terrible law over another should put all talk about ‘choice’ and ‘agency’ into perspective.
In September 2015, Hanteo staged a larger protest in downtown Seoul. Around 1,500 sex workers demanded an end to the government’s repression, shouting slogans and holding up signs in Korean and English that read “Repeal the anti-sex trade laws!”, “we are workers!” or “adopt Amnesty’s declaration!”.
Last year, when the constitutional court struck down the 62-year-old adultery law, it cited “the country’s changing sexual mores and a growing emphasis on individual rights”. Similar logic should govern the decision on the anti-sex trade laws, which is still pending, however some women’s rights and social conservative groups are continuing to stage protests to prevent a decision against the laws, citing fears over human trafficking and minors engaging in sex work.
Migration from Asian countries to South Korea has increased in recent years, and nobody suggests that the country is immune to migrant smuggling or human trafficking. Marriages between comparatively affluent Korean men and poorer southeast Asian women remain common in rural areas, as do the problems arising from illegal practices by marriage brokers or from violence perpetrated by Korean men against their foreign wives, whom they sometimes appear to seek only for reproductive purposes and household or farm labour.
There have also been occurrences of migrants being trafficked into commercial sex venues, but it is crucial to separate human trafficking from consensual adult sex work. Cases of human trafficking or exploitation of migrants have been detected in numerous industries, including in the fishing, agricultural, or manufacturing industries. Migrants of all genders, as well as Korean citizens, are affected by conditions amounting to forced labour. It is therefore disingenuous to suggest that the problem is limited to women who are forced to sell sex, and to thereby disregard the experiences of trafficked persons and migrants in other industries, which include sexualised violence.
We are opposed to any form of violence. Sex and sexualised violence, however, are not the same. Consensual sadomasochistic sexual practices and actual violence are different, just as consensual sex work and being trafficked into the sex industry are different. People may choose to engage in sex work because they experience stigma as single mothers or due to their sexual orientation, or if other factors limit their options on the formal labour market.
Sex work itself is not violence and to suggest otherwise dilutes the meaning of violence. If we really want to curb human trafficking, we have to address the systemic circumstances that marginalise people and render them vulnerable. As sex workers’ rights activists, we have a stake in seeing human trafficking effectively addressed. The battle slogan ‘prostitution is violence against women’ harms both sex workers and trafficked persons as it drives the creation and perpetuation of precisely those failed laws and policies that enable traffickers to prey on vulnerable populations.
About the authors
YuJin self-identifies as a gay sex worker and is a member of Giant Girls, one of two organisations actively campaigning for the rights of sex workers in South Korea.
Popho E.S. Bark-Yi is a feminist researcher and activist in South Korea. Her work focuses on sexuality and on basic income.
Matthias Lehmann is a German researcher and activist, currently focusing on sex work regulations in Germany. His prior research dealt with human rights violations against sex workers in South Korea. He is an active member of ICRSE.
This article was first published by Open Democracy as part of the ‘Sex workers speak: who listens?’ series on Beyond Trafficking and Slavery, generously sponsored by COST Action IS1209 ‘Comparing European Prostitution Policies: Understanding Scales and Cultures of Governance’ (ProsPol). ProsPol is funded by COST. The University of Essex is its Grant Holder Institution. Please note: this article is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence. If you have any queries about republishing please contact Open Democracy. Please check individual images for licensing details.
Janice Raymond’s Ouija Board (Source: Wikipedia)
In an exclusive for OpEdNews, a US-based website for political and social analysis, radical feminist Janice Raymond responded to sociologist Julie Kaye’s opinion piece in the New York Times, titled “Canada’s Flawed Sex Trade Law”, in which Kaye criticised the Canadian government for having merely replaced one flawed policy with another by passing Bill C-36.  It would be hilarious, if it wasn’t so serious an issue, that of all people, Raymond felt she was in a position to criticise Kaye for ignoring evidence. Responding to claims made by Raymond surely is not what gets me up in the morning but I decided to do so due to the sheer amount of misinformation put forward by her, including continuing to misrepresent South Korea’s Anti-Sex Trade Laws. The statements from reports and articles listed below will illustrate that ignoring evidence is in fact Raymond’s very own modus operandi.
Alleged increase of human trafficking during sport events
Raymond is indignant that someone could have the audacity to challenge “the numbers of women and girls sexually exploited during sports events”. In the report “What’s the cost of a rumour? A guide to sorting out the myths and the facts about sporting events and trafficking”, Julie Ham wrote:
“There is a very wide discrepancy between claims that are made prior to large sporting events and the actual number of trafficking cases found. There is no evidence that large sporting events cause an increase in trafficking for prostitution.”
And in a study commissioned by the European Football Association (UEFA), Martina Schuster, Almut Sülzle, Agnieszka Zimowska wrote:
“As in our previous analysis of major football events, we suggest that the topic of human trafficking should not be brought up in connection with such events, since this is detrimental to efforts to help victims. Before the 2006 World Cup in Germany, for example, various campaigns predicted an increase in human trafficking, which did not materialise. As a result, the organisations concerned were no longer taken seriously by the public because their predictions had been so inaccurate.”
Finally, Ruth Krčmář, Coordinator of the International Organisation for Migration’s Counter Trafficking Programme in the Ukraine stated:
“NGO case data as well hotline responses show no evidence that human trafficking surged before or during the EURO 2012. The scare of increased human trafficking for sexual exploitation comes up every time there is a large sporting event on the horizon, although our experience only reinforces earlier findings in other countries. We hope that studies like ours will eventually put an end to the myth, which results in scarce counter-trafficking resources being spent on one-off campaigns rather than long-term solutions and victim assistance.”
You say ‘Nordic’, I say ‘Swedish’, let’s call the whole thing off
With regards to Raymond’s conflation of different countries’ prostitution laws as ‘Nordic Model’, May-Len Skilbrei and Charlotta Holmström wrote:
“We found that the differences not only between, but also within, the Nordic countries are too great for there to be anything like a shared ‘Nordic’ model – and that the case for their success is far more fraught than popular support would suggest. Only Sweden, Norway and Iceland have acts unilaterally criminalising the purchase of sex. Finland has a partial ban; Denmark has opted for decriminalisation. The ‘Nordic model’, then, is in fact confined to only three countries. … The Nordic countries also police prostitution using various other laws and by-laws. Some of these regulations do, in fact, assume that the women who sell sex are to be punished and blamed for prostitution. This goes to show that one should be careful in concluding that Nordic prostitution policies are guided by progressive feminist ideals, or that they necessarily seek to protect women involved in prostitution.”
Source: The Conversation
Raymond blames Kaye for ignoring the findings of the Swedish Institute’s evaluation of the Swedish Sex Purchase Act from 2010, claiming that “there is no evidence that the decrease in street prostitution has led to an increase in prostitution elsewhere” and that “Sweden is one of two countries in Europe where prostitution and sex trafficking is not increasing”. However, the one who is doing the ignoring here is Raymond.
A 2014 report by the Stockholm County Council, titled “Extent and development of prostitution in Sweden”, states that “the methods currently available are unable to estimate the exact extent in Sweden” and that “the size of the population” engaging in prostitution is unknown. What’s more, the report also states that there is a lack of “a single definition of prostitution and human trafficking, which makes it difficult to draw comparisons between and within countries over time”.
Whereas Raymond cites the 2010 report as stating there was no evidence that prostitution had moved elsewhere (from the streets), the 2014 report states that “the number of escort ads aimed for men who buy sexual services from women has increased markedly during the past eight years from 304 to 6,965 ads”. Apparently, prostitution did move elsewhere: online. One should also note that the claim of the Sex Purchase Act having halved street-based sex work is problematic, since it is based on guesstimates from as early as 1995 – 4 years before the adoption of the law. [Source: Stockholm County Council]
A recent research report from Malmö University, commissioned by the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (RFSU), also criticises the Sex Purchase Act, concluding that claims of the policy’s success have been greatly exaggerated. “There is no evidence that the demand has declined to the extent claimed by the state-led evaluation,” RFSU’s President Kristina Ljungros told the daily Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter. “The law has instead led to increased vulnerability for sex workers.” [Source: Global Network of Sex Work Project (NSWP)/Dagens Nyheter]
Where Raymond’s statements about Germany are concerned, I shall give her credit for correctly stating that Germany decriminalized aspects of prostitution in 2002, as opposed to legalising sex work in 2002, as is commonly and incorrectly claimed. However, the number she mentions of persons engaged in prostitution is a mere figment of her imagination. The claim that they are 400,000 sex workers in Germany actually dates back to the 1980s – before Germany’s reunification – and was only an estimate by Hydra e.V., a meeting and counselling centre for sex workers.
At a symposium titled “10 Years Prostitution Law in Germany” in 2012, researcher Elfriede Steffan stated that Hydra’s estimate was continuously being cited for over two decades although it lacked any scientific basis. According to Steffan, another estimate from the 1990s put the number of sex workers in unified Germany between 60,000 and 200,000. She added, “Objectivity also means to admit what we don’t know. There is no new data.”
A 2005 evaluation report by the German government estimated that there were 200,000 sex workers in Germany, and on its website, the responsible ministry states that where the number of sex workers in Germany is concerned, there are no reliable statistics available. Thus, Raymond’s claim that “two years after the law was passed, the number of persons in prostitution rose from about 200,000 to over 400,000” is entirely fictional.
Raymond’s Reprise: Misrepresenting the ‘South Korean Model’
Finally, as I mentioned in my introduction, Raymond continues to misrepresent the nature and alleged success of South Korea’s Anti-Sex Trade Laws, currently under review by the country’s constitutional court. Raymond states that the law prohibits “the purchase of sexual activities” but conveniently leaves out that sex workers are equally criminalised. In addition, as I have written previously, her claims about the existence of better victim protection and assistance and the alleged reduction of the sex industry in South Korea lack common sense as well as scientific evidence.
The above is by no means an exhaustive list of evidence to counter the wild claims made by Janice Raymond, and I shall leave the remaining ones to others, since there really isn’t enough time in a day to debunk articles such as Raymond’s. But at the very least, I hope that the above listed sources will suffice to illustrate that Raymond is in no position to blame others for “selecting certain examples at the expense of others” and that what Raymond laments, ignoring evidence, is in fact her very own modus operandi.
 Janice Raymond is an American radical feminist author and activist, and a professor emerita of Women’s Studies and Medical Ethics at the University of Massachusetts (UMass). Julie Kaye is the Director of Community Engaged Research and Assistant Professor of Sociology at The King’s University in Edmonton, Alberta.
 For the reason why I do not use the term ‘sex trafficking’ as Raymond does, please see Borislav Gerasimov’s article ‘Hey, mind your language’ and my own comment below.
Palace of Westminster, London (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
In response to a call by the English Collective of Prostitutes, I sent the following letter to the chair and all members of the Modern Slavery Bill Committee at the House of Commons of the United Kingdom.
+++ SEE UPDATE BELOW +++
Dear Mr Field, Dear Mr McDonnell,
and Dear Members of the Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill,
Without a doubt, you will receive plenty of emails containing objections to clauses of the Modern Slavery Bill, and I’m afraid this is another one. I am a German doctoral researcher at Queen’s University Belfast, where my focus lies on prostitution regulation in my native Germany. Over the last years, I have conducted research into measures to prevent human trafficking in the Mekong Sub-region and human rights abuses against sex workers in South Korea, resulting from Korea’s Anti-Sex Trade Law.
Recently, I had to observe how the majority of members of the Northern Ireland Assembly blatantly disregarded scientific evidence (as well as sex workers’ testimony) against Clause 6 of Lord Morrow’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill. As you will well be aware, MLAs voted to criminalise the purchase of sexual services a mere three days after the Department of Justice published its first-ever comprehensive research report into prostitution in Northern Ireland, conducted by senior colleagues at Queen’s University. As your colleague, Justice Minister David Ford, stated, he saw no evidence to suggest that criminalising the purchase of sexual services would reduce the incidence of trafficking. However, he added that “the report contains evidence to suggest that criminalising the purchasing of sex … may create further risk and hardship for those individuals, particularly women involved in prostitution.”
Earlier this year, the EU adopted a report by Mary Honeyball, MEP, as a resolution to endorse criminalising the purchase of sexual services in EU countries, despite evidence provided to counter her claims signed by numerous experts in the field and a statement by hundreds of organisations. Regardless of one’s personal opinion on the matter, Ms Honeyball’s report was deeply flawed by any standards, and I must ask you: how is it that a sound research report as the one by the researchers at Queen’s can be dismissed so easily while a clearly biased report such as Ms Honeyball’s can be adopted as a EU resolution? The answer is simple: it just isn’t very easy for politicians such as yourselves to vote against human trafficking bills or bills to criminalise sex workers’ clients, because you must certainly be worried that the public might perceive it as promoting either a crime – human trafficking – or what some people may still consider as immoral – selling and buying sexual services.
Although I have submitted evidence to Rhoda Grant’s consultation in Scotland and, much the same, to Lord Morrow’s consultation in Northern Ireland, which you are certainly invited to explore, I would like to ask you to first look at the detailed evidence submitted by the English Collective of Prostitutes, titled Briefing against clauses to the Modern Slavery Bill to prohibit the purchase of sexual services.
Key points include:
- Support for the amendment which would remove the offence of loitering and soliciting for sex workers
- Strong opposition to the clauses criminalising clients, on the basis of sex workers’ safety
- Evidence to counter the claim that the Swedish anti-prostitution law has allegedly resulted in a reduction of human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation or a reduction of prostitution
- Evidence that the treatment of sex workers in Sweden has worsened since the adoption of the Swedish Model
- The fact that once again, like in Northern Ireland, the evidence submitted by sex workers is being ignored
You do not have to agree with people’s choices to sell or buy sexual services, but you need to accept these choices and must refrain from introducing laws that endanger people selling sex, even more so if there is no sufficient evidence that the measure would yield any success with regards to the declared aim to reduce human trafficking.
I therefore ask you to be show courage and represent sex workers in the same way you represent your other constituents. If you really want to protect sex workers, don’t give in to misguided bill proposals based on morality. As Justice Minister David Ford pointed out ahead of the vote in the assembly: “It’s not about morals. It’s about how to best address the issues.”
ps. My native Germany has taken a different approach to prostitution legislation, which is frequently misrepresented in the media and by anti-prostitution activists. Therefore, I would like to point you at a short article of mine looking at the Lies & Truths about the German Prostitution Act – An Introduction for the Uninitiated.
+++ UPDATE: The amendment to the Modern Slavery Bill put forward by Fiona Mactaggart MP, which would have criminalised sex workers’ clients, was dropped without even going to a vote. Another amendment put forward by Yvette Cooper MP, Shadow Home Secretary, calling for a “review of the links between prostitution and human trafficking and sexual exploitation”, which was put forward as an alternative to Fiona Mactaggart’s, was defeated by 283 votes to 229. Please listen to the excellent speech by John McDonnell MP. Alternatively you can view the video or read the full transcript included in a statement by the English Collective of Prostitutes. +++
Coming soon: Questionable documentary about “sex trafficking”
Please note: This article is from September 2014. The film was released online in July 2017. The “facts” presented below still remain on the updated website of the filmmakers. Several links have been added to the below which readers are encouraged to follow.
Not a day goes by without another lurid news report, blog article, petition, or film project about “sex trafficking” surfacing. Last week, Jason and Eddie Lee, two Korean-American brothers who founded the Jubilee Project, and Jean Rheem, a native Korean living in the US, published a trailer for their upcoming documentary “Save My Seoul”, which aims to uncover “prostitution and sex trafficking in Seoul”.
Although the documentary has not yet been released, the details that have already emerged raise serious concerns over the three film makers’ grasp of the subject in general, and the harms caused by the conflation of sex work and human trafficking in particular. The following will examine the “facts” they present on their website and in the trailer, in order to highlight the problems that arise when presumably well-intended do-gooders choose to create ostensibly objective accounts about “sex trafficking”.
Apart from the fact that, ranging from 500,000 to more than double that number, it doesn’t even qualify as a guesstimate, this figure, which the film makers attribute to the Korean Feminist Association, was first spread more than ten years ago and before the adoption of South Korea’s Anti-Sex Trade Laws in 2004. It has since been quoted in news reports time and time again, which is par for the course for such figures, but considering that even the South Korean government isn’t able to produce any reliable research on the subject (see next paragraph), the figure is highly questionable. It doesn’t bode well that the film makers label an outdated and inaccurate figure as a “fact”, and without providing a link to the actual report, but their other claims are no less problematic.
Eddie Byun is a Chicago-born pastor at Onnuri Community Church in Seoul. He “fights against modern-day slavery” through HOPE Be Restored, an extension of Onnuri’s English Ministry “that seeks to bring freedom for the oppressed and restoration to lives that have been effected by human trafficking in Korea and around the world”. His book, “Justice Awakening: How You and Your Church Can Help End Human Trafficking”, includes tips how to “teach and preach sermons on human trafficking” and “rally men’s and women’s ministries to educate and actively engage in the fight against trafficking by helping anti-trafficking and after-care programs”. It doesn’t come as a surprise that among those praising his book is Gary Haugen, president and CEO of the International Justice Mission, an organisation “whose reliance on headline-grabbing brothel raids conducted with police to “rescue” sex workers have drawn criticism from human rights advocates around the world.” (Continue reading: Melissa Gira Grant – U.S. Policy and the Unjust Approach to Human Trafficking of the International Justice Mission)
While it is perhaps understandable that the Christian film makers felt they could trust the words of a pastor, Eddie Byun supports his claim by citing a report from November 2007 that was published by the South Korean Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF) but produced by the Korean Women’s Development Institute (KWDI).
The report, which is only available in Korean, is titled: “National Survey on the current conditions of the Sex Trade in Korea” (전국성매매실태조사). KWDI chose altogether 8 business types from government registries of businesses they suspected as most likely to facilitate transactional sex. Those were: serviced pubs, clubs, smaller pubs, tea and coffee houses, noraebangs (karaoke places), barber shops, massage parlours, and beauty shops/wellness places. People living or working in red light districts were interviewed and the findings were based on their impressions (emphasis added).
The numbers in the KWDI report don’t always add up either. The 2007 figures in the report list 39 red light districts, 1,443 brothels, 3,644 sex workers, 2,510,000 clients per year, and an average of 5.8 clients per brothel and day. However, if one multiplies 5.8 x 1443 x 365 (clients per brothel and day x brothels x 1 year), one arrives at 3,054,831 client visits, a discrepancy of 544,831. It probably explains why MOGEF stated they wouldn’t take any responsibility for the figures in the report. (Continue reading: Janice Raymond and the South Korean Model)
The report’s research methodology is questionable at best, and while Byun and the film makers take the figures therein at face value, the authors actually admit that their estimates are based on conjecture.
For this claim, the film makers provide as source a “Korean Municipal Government” and the accompanying link leads to an article by Jennifer Chang on Al Jazeera, where the news channel deemed it necessary to inform its readers that some of the NGO figures Chang quoted “are not supported by any official data and are impossible to verify”, which casts doubts on the article’s overall credibility.
An extraordinary disclaimer by Al Jazeera, added on top of Chang‘s article
According to Chang, the report (by the Seoul Metropolitan Government) cited figures from the police estimating that 200,000 youths run away from home each year, and “a survey of 175 female teen runaways by the municipal government found half had been led into the sex industry.”
Chang’s article, which focuses entirely on female runaways selling sex, appears to be based on this survey, which engaged with less than 0.1% of the total estimate of teenage runaways, and on interviews she conducted with female youths she met with the help of Hansorihoe (United Voice). Hansorihoe is an umbrella organisation of NGOs working towards the “eradication of sex trafficking in a society where all human rights are met”, promoting “anti-sex trafficking campaigns”, and “advocating for polices”. These campaigns – click here for a selection of them – not only frequently objectify women but regularly conflate sex work and human trafficking, which leads not only to “harm to sex workers on the ground, but also to conflicts that undermine HIV prevention”. (Continue reading: Richard Steen et al – Trafficking, sex work, and HIV: efforts to resolve conflicts)
If Chang’s report were an academic paper, it wouldn’t get past any peer-review. But in a news story, one can easily make claims that remain largely unchallenged and are subsequently cited as evidence by others.
The same applies to this claim in the trailer. No source is given and the statement does not appear on the “Save My Seoul” website.
Eddie Byun, the pastor the film makers cited above, writes in his book that “up to thirty million people are in slavery around the world” (page 12). Later, he writes that there are “more than thirty million slaves” (page 58), before he states “there are between 20 and 30 million people who are enslaved throughout the world” (page 155), and finally, that there are “approximately 20 million people are victims of human trafficking” (page 166; emphases added). The final figure is based on the Global Estimate of Forced Labour 2012 by the International Labour Organisation, which stated that “20.9 million people are victims of forced labour at any point in time”, 4.5 million (22 per cent) of which are said to be victims of forced sexual exploitation. The film makers, however, chose to stick with the oft-quoted figure of 27 million human trafficking victims, which dates back to 1999.
“That number was developed was developed by a “trafficking” fanatic named Kevin Bales using media reports multiplied by arbitrary numbers of his own devising; the more the hysteria, the higher the number of articles and thus the higher Bales’ number grows. … Bales starts with an “estimate” of unknown derivation, “adjusts” it by a factor based on media reports (which often repeat each other and obviously increase dramatically during a moral panic), presumes without evidence that the proportion of reports to actual incidents is low, multiplies the result by guesses from prohibitionists with an anti-whore agenda, then rounds up.” (Continue reading: Maggie McNeill – Held Together With Lies. See also: Dr Ron Weitzer – Miscounting human trafficking and slavery)
Rights not rescue – and no voyeurism either!
The above explanations are by no means exhaustive but they illustrate the use of flawed data and misrepresentations to promote the upcoming documentary “Save My Seoul”. There are two possibilities: either the film makers lack the necessary understanding of the very subject matter they hope to shed light on, or they deliberately cherry-picked statistics that fit into their sensationalist agenda. A quick glance at the comments underneath their trailer shows that they certainly know their audience. The most common response smacks of voyeurism: “Can’t wait (to see it)”.
Screenshot from Save My Seoul’s Facebook page
In 2012, three UN agencies compiled a comprehensive report in collaboration with numerous sex worker organisations in the Asia-Pacific region about laws, HIV and human rights in the context of sex work. The report examined laws, policies and law enforcement practices in 48 countries of the region with regards to their impact on the human rights of sex workers and the effectiveness of HIV responses.
If the film makers would have read this report, they would have been aware that “police crackdowns from 2004-2009 resulted in arrest of approximately 28,000 sex workers” in South Korea alone, and that the conflation of sex work and human trafficking often results in migrant sex workers living “with the constant threat of being reported, arrested and deported”, creating “a real barrier to accessing health and welfare services”. (Continue reading: UNDP – Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific)
Sex worker organisations and human rights groups, such as the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) or the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW), have long since denounced the harms caused by anti-prostitution and anti-trafficking laws, and sex workers around the world demand rights, not rescue. But even in the absence of rights: the last thing sex workers or any people in exploitative labour situations need are voyeurs or do-gooders grandstanding as saviours. Not without reason do sex workers frequently declare: save us from saviours!
Photo: Sex worker collective Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad (VAMP)
Guest post by Matthias Lehmann
More often than not, advocacy for sex workers’ rights and the acceptance of sex work as work puts one at odds with members of that part of the anti-human trafficking movement that rejects these ideas, considers prostitution as inherently harmful, and brands anyone disagreeing with them as a member of some imaginary pimp lobby. Another group one finds oneself at odds with are journalists who report about – and, like the former, conflate – human trafficking and prostitution, as their articles frequently include false, inaccurate or misrepresented information.
As sex workers and their allies will confirm, one could easily spend all day writing rebuttals to counter the influence on public opinion of the many sensationalist reports, but one has to pick and choose. The following is a response to Kyla Ryan’s article “Cambodia’s Ongoing Human Trafficking Problem” in The Diplomat. Before I start, however, I…
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Interview with Heike Rabe, Policy Advisor at the German Institute for Human Rights (Deutsches Institut für Menschenrechte)
The UN calls for a global fight against human trafficking. In Germany, the focus lies on forced prostitution.* In an interview with tagesschau.de, lawyer Heike Rabe laments the lack of reliable data. She doesn’t think much of plans to tighten the prostitution law.
“The truths that are broadcast by the media aren’t empirically verifiable truths. There is no evidence that Germany is the biggest brothel of Europe. There is no evidence that prostitutes are also always victims of human trafficking. And there is also no evidence that the Prostitution Act of 2002 is to blame for that. Fact is, however: the measures that are discussed with regards to the pending revision of that law curtail the rights of prostitutes. They include, for example, mandatory health checks.”
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