Sex trade takes hundreds of Koreans to U.S.

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Sex trade takes hundreds of Koreans to U.S.

A first-of-its-kind study by a government-run institute has revealed that hundreds of Korean women enter the United States as sex-trade workers every month.

Twenty-two Korean prostitutes and industry insiders who worked in the United States were interviewed by the Korean Institute of Criminology for four months beginning in May last year.

According to Jang Joon-oh, a senior researcher in charge of the project, most of the Korean women paid brokers $10,000 to help them cross borders leading to the United States. Seven out of 18 Korean sex workers told Jang they were smuggled into the United States from neighboring Canada and Mexico. The seven women, who work in massage parlors or karaoke bars, said they hid in cars to cross borders, or risked their lives by sneaking past the U.S.-Mexico border with Mexicans.

The 11 other sex workers arrived in the United States on tourist visas.

All 18 of the sex workers interviewed were illegal aliens in the country. One earned a green card after she fabricated marriage documents, but she could be deported to Korea if she is caught by U.S. immigration.

A 36-year-old sex worker who worked in the industry in the United States for five years confessed she hid herself under the back seat of a van and illegally entered the United States from Canada. Since taking up the sex trade, she has acquired a holiday drug and gambling habit of $10,000 a day.

The research found that some women who went to the United States for sex work saw Internet advertisements reading, “Escape recession: Looking for unni [women] who want to work in the U.S.”

The respondents said they worked more than 13 hours with seven or eight customers a day on average. Eighty percent of the clients were Americans and the sex workers said they were paid around $200 per hour, with $80 of that money going to the owner of the sex business. The interviewees said they earned at least $10,000 a month.

Many Korean sex workers in the United States frequently move to other states to avoid crackdowns. They normally start working in western cities such as San Francisco or Los Angeles and move to Dallas, Atlanta and New York. “The sex business wants to lure new clients, and they prefer to switch their workers often,” Jang explained.

Jang, who conducted his interviews in the United States, said the women’s American dream of a decent life turns upside down quickly.

“Many Korean sex workers don’t speak English at all, and they can’t get on the bus alone,” Jang said. “It’s nearly impossible for them to live a normal life in the United States.”

Korean women in the sex industry in the United States were generally satisfied with the high salary, but they get homesick and feel lonely because of the language barriers and other factors. Jang said many turn to drugs or gambling to escape their reality.

“It’s important to determine the illegality of sex work, but we also need comprehensive research on whether Korean sex workers in the United States were exploited or have their human rights severely infringed,” Jang said.


By Hong Hye-jin, Kim Mi-ju [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]

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