U.S. Busts Tell Sorry Tale of Korean Prostitutes Abroad

A red-light district in Tokyo, the No. 1 destination for Korean women being illegally sent abroad for prostitution A red-light district in Tokyo, the No. 1 destination for Korean women being illegally sent abroad for prostitution

The number of Korean women looking for work as prostitutes abroad or being trafficked for the purpose is on the increase. Some 50 members of two gangs busted in California on Friday on charges of selling hundreds of Korean women to places of prostitution are just the tip of the iceberg.

Destinations for Korean sex workers are no longer limited to developed nations like the U.S., Canada, Australia and Japan. Korean police say the number of women working in bars, karaoke clubs and massage parlors in countries frequented by growing numbers of Korean tourists like Thailand, Vietnam, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan is increasing. Meanwhile in North America the realm of activity of Korean sex workers is spreading from major urban centers like Washington DC, Los Angeles, New York and Toronto to smaller cities and towns.

In February, it emerged that an organization sold 38 women to brothels in Australia, New Zealand and Canada in conditions of virtual bonded labor. Police say the organization would advance the women millions of won they had to pay back at 60 percent interest and forced them to pay medical expenses for diseases contracted on the job. The women had to sign up to a ¡°code of conduct¡± that fined them US$300 for arguing with customers and US$50 for showing up a minute late to work.

At an international meeting on human traficking in Bangkok, Thailand last October, Kim Yeong-ran of the Naeil Women's Center for Youth said an increasing number of Korean men who go on sex tours abroad was paralleled by a growing number of Korean sex workers going overseas. Police said it appeared that since the Special Law on Prostitution went into effect in September, the number of pimps and prostitutes heading overseas was rapidly increasing. But they have no idea of the exact scale of the problem since most of the women leave the country ostensibly for tourism.

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors in the U.S. have arrested 27 members of an organization who fixed Korean sex workers up with jobs in San Francisco, and are holding about 100 Korean prostitutes. In Los Angeles, which has a large Korean population, 18 were arrested on charges of smuggling Korean prostitutes into the country and setting them up in safe houses as part of what U.S. prosecutors claim was one of the biggest prostitution busts in history. The nine-month investigation of Korean prostitution rings was codenamed ¡°Operation Gilded Cage.¡±

U.S. authorities believe the gangs sold the women to places in Los Angeles, Texas, Colorado, Massachusetts, New York and Las Vegas after smuggling them in through Mexico and Canada, where they served local and Korean clients. Most had worked as prostitutes in Korea and went overseas as domestic anti-prostitution laws started to bite. Federal prosecutors said the gangs were abusing the hopes and dreams of immigrants.

englishnews@chosun.com / 7¿ù 03, 2005 22:03 KST