By the time Lee, a 30-year-old Korean sex worker in Melbourne, called for help in 2010, she’d been forced into prostitution in two foreign countries and piled up a huge amount of debt.
She says loan sharks, bar managers and even clothing shop owners in Busan conspired to induce her to borrow $20,000. They sent her to brothels in Japan and Australia, where she was forced to have sex with up to 10 clients a day.
Hong, a 26-year-old North Korean defector, thought she would be working in a karaoke bar singing with customers and borrowed $6,000 for a broker to arrange a working holiday visa and for travel expenses last year.
Her manager, also a defector, told the woman her passport would be returned once the money was paid back. Hong earned $70 per session at a brothel.
“The people who arranged my travel, they were close to each other,” she said. “I was on the outside. I was desperate to make money because I had just given birth.”
Social workers say the cases show the deceptive tactics traditionally used to recruit and control victims, who are sometimes forced into the overseas sex industry in places also including the United States, Canada, Hong Kong, Dubai and Macau.
National police, however, insist the problem is minimal.
The conflicting accounts raise questions over the scope of sex trafficking in Korea, where the sex trade accounted for a whopping 1.6 percent of gross domestic product in 2007. Critics assert that the government’s dearth of relevant data reflects its ambivalence toward victims of prostitution, who are supposedly protected under law.
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