www.groovekorea.com / January 2015 38 Sex workers are threatened by violence from all sides. Po- lice crackdowns on the industry can be violent. As sex workers take drastic measures to dispose of evidence quickly, officers at times use physical force to retrieve it. But violence toward sex workers isn’t limited to police raids, and Kim notes they often face mistreatment and physical abuse by customers as well as managers. In room salons, where hostesses chat up businessmen in a bar-like atmosphere, it’s common for workers to leave with the client for “afters” in a hotel. The managers, Kim says, have little interest in what happens to the workers outside of their premises. While working at a room salon, Kim was forced to flee an “afters” arrangement naked when the customer hit her. “The manager doesn’t really care about the things that happen outside of the room salon. The money earned in ‘af- ters’ all goes to the workers, not the room salon, so managers don’t care what happens,” she says. In Kim’s experience, violence from managers is becoming more frequent. The government initiatives to eradicate the in- dustry, she says, are only making it easier for this to happen. She says more brothels are operating out of officetels, an environment that separates the workers from each other in different rooms and makes it harder for them to call for help in an emergency. “Because employers know the passwords for the workers’ officetel rooms where they take customers, they can just go in and rape the women easily,” she says. In instances like this, Kim says, going to the police is not an option. “In the past, the sex workers stuck together and worked together with solidarity like a labor union; we stood up to em- ployers if we felt like one of us was being mistreated, but now we can’t,” she says. Sex workers can also fall victim to blackmail or debt bond- age, and often end up working for free because of it, says Kang Hyun-joon, director general of Hanteo National Union of Sex Workers, an organization that aims to protect the inter- ests and rights of sex workers and their clients. “Some men demand their money back after the service, claiming they weren’t 100 percent satisfied,” he says. The claim often ends with the employer persuading the sex worker to give the refund, which leaves the worker empty-handed. “You can’t say no when they threaten you with the law.” Kang explains that under the law, the punishment for the employer is much more severe than for the buyer. A con- victed male client can attend educational seminars aimed at preventing reoffenses in lieu of punishment. In cases like this, the brothel owner would rather take the financial loss than deal with the police. “The managers often end up giving (the disgruntled clients) more money on top of it. There’s nothing that the brothel owner or sex worker can do about this,” Kang says. Hanteo, established in 2005, has 7,000-8,000 members consisting of sex workers as well as managers. Kang says this group represents a poverty-stricken population that often lacks other employment options. Having owned a brothel in Busan for five years before managing Hanteo full-time, he notes that debt bondage can easily become a problem for workers in many types of workplaces in the sex industry. Recruiters, Kang says, visit bars, karaoke rooms and “tick- et” cafés, selecting targets to persuade to join the industry. “They would buy (the girls) stuff, give them allowances and tell them how much they would earn if they worked here or there. And because most of the women who work in those places part-time really need that money, they are quite easily persuaded,” he explains. The workers then end up working in a place like a room salon, where they must drink while working. Given that the women are picked by the men, they have to invest in their appearance, and if they lack the financial means to do so, they borrow the money and begin to accumulate debt. This debt increases if the workers fall ill and can’t work. In the end, the women turn to brothels, which Kang says offers a better work environment. “In brothels they don’t have to drink, and the employers usually pay off their debt first. Then they can work there to pay back that amount.” Lucien Lee, a transgender sex worker in Seoul who vol- untarily entered the industry two years ago at age 21, has no manager and enjoys the work she does. “I love my job. I love helping my clients explore their own sexuality,” she says. She works on a “jogeonmannam” basis, meaning condition- al meet-up. She advertises herself online and uses chatting apps to arrange meetings with clients. Even though she can reject a client based on the demands, incidents of violence and blackmail can still occur. “There was this 18-year-old man who found me online and threatened to report me to the police. He said he wouldn’t report me if I met him. I met him and the experience I had on that day made me feel so helpless for a long time,” she says. After the incident, Lee felt that there was nowhere to go for help. While she was aware of organizations that help those who have been sexually assaulted, she didn’t feel comfort- able approaching them. “I know there are centers for sexually assaulted people, but I feel, from what I observed from fem- inists, I cannot expect to get help without first being judged based on my job,” she says. Lee says such feminists from an- ti-prostitution organizations assume she hates what she does and seek to keep the industry criminalized. Lee wants to be able to work without the fear of being ar- rested or secretly taped. The only way she sees this happen- ing is through decriminalization, which would remove the laws and policies that make sex work a crime, help to reduce the stigma attached to it and create a safer work environment. “Currently, we find it very difficult to call the police when the client refuses to pay the (agreed) price, wear a condom or when the client blackmails us,” she says. “If sex workers, their business partners and clients are de- criminalized, sex workers would feel much more comfortable calling the police when there is a need.” Edited by Elaine Ramirez (elaine@groovekorea.com) COvER STORy threats of violence, threats of charges