Are Voluntary Sex Industry Workers Victims of Trafficking or Not?


written by gkim

When I tell people I am part of an anti-sex trafficking organization, one of the most common questions I am asked is, “Are voluntary sex industry workers, such as room salon girls or massage parlor girls, victims as well?” They always seem to emphasize the fact that so many women do it out of greed because they desire a certain lifestyle with luxuries. Then they give me a look of contempt, shrugging their shoulders, as if to say, “I should have no pity for them. They’re in it for the money. They’re not in chains tied up somewhere against their own will.” And, not surprisingly, every single person who has asked me this question has been Korean. This is most likely because many Korean American and native Korean women who are attractive and sometimes educated, truly have opted to work as call girls, prostitutes, or hostesses in the sex industry. Yes, it is correct to say that some of them voluntarily enter this world with hopes that they will be able to lead a glamorous, wealthy life and buy a nice Chanel or Louis Vuitton purse every week. Not only does this occur amongst Koreans, it happens within many different communities around the world as well. Of course, this is not to say that all the Korean women in the industry opt to do so for these reasons. Most of the time, this does not pertain to the women in thr sex industry. In many cases, women who enter voluntarily, do so believing that it is simply a decent way for unskilled female workers to earn a living. These women who enter on their own are actually mixed in with those women who have been tricked or forced and trafficked into the industry, and they all become equals in a large melting pot of imprisonment. So my answer to this so frequently asked question has always been and will always be: YES. Yes. YEs.

Just because a woman enters it for whatever ludicrous, selfish, or personal reason they may have, they are still victimized in several ways. First off, the industry itself is a victimizing industry. Rape and different types of sexual violation are common occurrences in the sex industry. Many women who enter voluntarily are not fully aware of this or do not think that it will happen to them. If there were a 100% chance that these women would be raped, and they were fully aware of this, their greed for money would not be able to override the fact of rape. Secondly, although one may enter voluntarily, most cannot leave when they want to. This cannot be considered a voluntary position if one is not allowed to come and go as they please. Most are coerced through debt accruals, forced drug usage, public shame, threats of violence, family shame, and despair. The majority of the actual traffickers who coerce these women manipulate them using a variety of methods. There are so many streetwalking prostitutes who have chances to run away but do not. The Korean American women who have walked into these establishments on their own can walk away on their own but do not. This is the influence and mind-control a trafficker or brothel owner can have on a woman. A woman is a commodity that can be sold over and over again to them. Trafficking women and selling them is financial security for criminals because unlike drugs, a human being does not become obsolete after one sale. Of course, the problem here is that human beings should never be for sale.

Some of these women who enter voluntarily are victims of greed, materialism, shame, hopelessness, desperation, or sexual abuse. In essence, they are not being held in chains, they are free to come and go, and they are able to control the money they earn. However the majority of women are brainwashed to believe that they are truly free and in control due to these factors, and many of them lie about being in debt bondage with their traffickers or pimps when in actuality, they owe large sums of money which has been given to them in advance. An advance from a brothel owner or pimp in a Korean establishment is called “miking.” The higher the miking, the longer the woman will be coerced into working. Mostly, Korean women who have been trafficked into the States under false identities are given higher mikings. Korean American women who have lived in the United States for a long time have a much lower limit with mikings. This is because of obvious reasons. Korean American women have a higher chance of running away while in debt and getting away with it. On the opposite end, Korean women who have been smuggled into the country have had their passports confiscated by the brothel owners, are threatened with harm to their family members back in Korea, and cannot speak a lick of English. They pose less of a flight risk.

All in all, to view a woman who is a prostitute and dismiss her as a person who deserves to be treated unequally or a person who deserves to be where they are because they chose to put themselves in that position, is an incredibly skewed perception. It is also never going to contribute to ridding the sex industry because in reality, prostitution is a mask for sex trafficking. They are essentially one. No amount of money or education will allow us to abolish sex slavery. It is a battle of moralities, a war between evil and good, and a test of humanity in which we are struggling to pass. People say prostitution is the oldest profession in the world, and that there’s no way the world will ever be able to end it. I beg to differ, as one day, when Christ comes, the world as we know it WILL end. Justice will prevail whether it be in our lifetime or another. Is it still worth the fight, knowing I may not get the results I am seeking before my time is up? Yes, YES, yEs. It is the worthiest thing to live for and the noblest thing to die for–fighting for God’s justice to drape the world.