Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Nefarious, and ESL lessons about sex trafficking in Korea

One of the best things about my job is how free I am to talk about things that are important. I work at a university, I have tons of freedom with my lessons, I get to joke and tease my students and most of the time they mostly understand what I'm saying! It's fun! Along those lines, I can also talk about things that are... less than fun. This week, I have spent a good portion of every class talking about human trafficking. 

Next Wednesday, there will be a screening of Nefarious at Jeonju University, hosted by REACH, a ministry in Jeonju that seeks "to raise awareness regarding the issue of human trafficking in South Korea and to reach out through the love of Jesus." Five members of REACH are professors here, so we are using our position among hundreds of young Koreans to do as much good as we can with the time that we have.

If you've been tracking with me in real life, you know how passionate I've become in the fight against human trafficking. I'm a big fan of AWARENESS and TELLING PEOPLE and POSTING STUFF ON FACEBOOK about it. The more we know, the more we can fight. One way to fight is through awareness ministries, like REACH. Get the word out there! Another way to fight is by actively (financially) supporting ministries that are in the trenches, like Hookers for JesusA21, Exodus Cry, IJMAgape International, Hope Be Restored, and a number of others. If you want to fight, just open your eyes. There are plenty of avenues. 

Sex is everrrrywhere in Korea, but, well, no one talks about it much. It's stupidly easy to find sex in Korea. It's ironically hush hush and prevalent at the same time. And although prostitution is officially illegal in South Korea, it's very very easy to buy sex. Many red light districts operate within walking distance of city halls and police stations. Not only are police and government officials aware of what's going on, the prostitutes are expected to service them... for free. For more information about prostitution in Korea, I recommend reading this and watching this, because the Eat Your Kimchi team did a very good job describing different aspects. 

With my students, many of them had never heard anything about human trafficking. I first talked about the difference between traffic (cars) and trafficking (moving of illegal goods), then I asked if they knew much about slavery. After defining what a slave is, I asked if they knew about modern slavery, slavery that happens around the world today. We briefly went over different kinds of modern slavery and human trafficking, then I got into an explanation of sex slavery and sex trafficking.

I think I shocked, um, all of my students. No one expects a 5'2" talkative bouncy-ball of a teacher to suddenly get very serious and talk about pimps and prostitutes during an English conversation class. They DEFINITELY didn't expect me to be so informed about specific Korean goings-on in red light districts, pornography, happy-ending massage parlors, kiss-uh bangs, love motels, coffee girls, or a number of other pay-for-illicit-pleasure services in this country. I'll share with you some of the statistics I shared with my students this week:

  • The Korean government states that 20% of men in their 20s buy sex at least 4 times a month. 
  • South Koreans are the biggest customers of the child sex industry in Southeast Asia (child sex tourism)
  • Buying sex at office parties and business trips is an an ingrained part of Korean corporate culture [because of Korean "honor" culture and a history of Confucianism, you "must" do whatever your boss or company requires, including drinking soju until you pass out, or purchasing sex at a company party]
  • Korean companies use corporate credit cards for illegal sexual entertainment, to the tune of $1 billion in 2013, which is completely overlooked by the Korean government 
And finally, statistics cited in the upcoming documentary Save My Seoul,
  • Prostitution is more than a $13 billion industry in Korea
  • 50% of Korean men have confessed to having bought sex at least once in their lifetime 
I can tell you right now, it is very obvious that many of my students are among the 20% who buy sex almost every week. As I write out statistics on the board (a helpful addition to any language learning class), many of the young men suddenly get very interested in the wall, or their shoes, or just look very, very uncomfortable. Being called out is never a comfortable thing, but WE MUST BE AWARE of our actions, and we must be aware of their implications. 

"Why am I telling you about this? Is it just to make you sad? Angry? No... we have to know, so we know how to fight it. There is real darkness in the world, but there is hope." 

I tell them that there will be a showing of Nefarious next Wednesday at 7 pm in the Star Center Library Theater. "Nefarious means evil, the most evil, and it's a documentary (movie) about human trafficking. We will have Korean subtitles. Here is the trailer, the movie preview..."

I happen to work at a Christian university, so it's not taboo to talk about the Gospel. Thank you Jesus! Some of my students are Christian, while others call themselves Christian but have never encountered Jesus in a personal way. Some go to church because it's the "right thing to do," or their parents expect it of them, but they don't have a love for God that puts their religious actions into motion. That's not what Christianity is about. Christianity isn't about doing good things and hoping God is happy with you so you can go to heaven. There are other religions that believe that. Put this way, Jesus didn't come to make bad people good, he came to make dead people alive. I hear that all the time these days and it brings me so much joy!

That's the heart of Nefarious. That's the heart of this movement. There is so much darkness in the world, but there is a great Light. Perfect Light. "I hope this makes you sad. I hope this makes you upset. It is heartbreaking. We have to talk about it, we must know what's happening in the world. It breaks my heart... and more than that, it breaks God's heart. God loves these women. God loves the men who use these women. God wants to rescue everyone; He is a good Father and he loves, he loves you."


After showing the trailer, I am a mess. I've seen the full documentary and cried my way through it, but the reality is so painful that it hits me afresh with each class. Honestly, I hope I never become callused to reality of so much pain in the world. The pain reminds me that the battle still rages.

After showing the trailer, I invite my students again. And you, dear reader, you are invited as well. If you're going to be in the Jeonju area next Wednesday, it's well worth your time. Human trafficking is so real, so prevalent in Korea that the word for Russian has become synonymous with prostitute. So many girls have been trafficked to South Korea to work in brothels that IT HAS BECOME THE VERY SAME WORD. If an old man asks you "러시아 사람?" "rus-si-ah sa-ram?" ...he is asking if you're a prostitute. EYK did a funny video on this a few years back. If I had a nickle for every time I've been asked if I'm rus-si-ah sa-ram, usually by a creepy old man at the bus terminal, or a creepy old man driving a taxi, I could probably buy an overpriced coffee by now. (Another plus to having dark hair while living in Korea? You don't get asked if you're a prostitute quite as often as you do when you're blonde.)

One last thing that I mention to my students, and will mention to you, is that most Korean prostitutes were either runaway teens or Korean orphans. I define the terms orphan and orphanage, then elaborate to teach my students that pimps watch out for teenage girls (and boys) who age out of the orphan homes in Korea. According to Oak Tree Project, "When the children graduate from high school they are deemed adults and are no longer able to live in the children homes. These children will then receive a small amount of money from the government and their orphanage will try to help them find work and a place for them to live. But after that, the children are pretty much on their own and, without healthy role models and support around them, are very vulnerable... Many struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts. For the children desperate for financial income and for some sort of emotional support, the sex industry can become a strong temptation for them. There is such a need for helping these children!"* 

No woman wants to become or remain a prostitute. She does so because she feels there are no other options, or she was outright lied to, tricked into the profession, and/or enslaved. We have to know. We have to tell.

Years ago, I prayed that God would break my heart for what breaks his and that is not an easy prayer to pray. If you ask Him, He is sure to answer. You either mean it, or you walk away when he brings things to light. Since that prayer, he's opened my eyes to so much evil in the world around me. Slavery is a huge, evil force in the modern age. It's been able to make a huge comeback because, for a long time, nobody. talked. about. it. Evil can grow in the dark. Evil can fester in the dark. 

But there is a great Light.

The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned. ~ Matthew 4:16

He reveals the deep things of darkness and brings utter darkness into the light. ~ Job 12:22

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them. ~ Isaiah 42:16

I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in the darkness. ~ John 12:46 

Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. ~ 1 John 2:8

"But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you... to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me." ~ Acts 26:16,18 Hosanna ~ Hillsong United 

*You can support Oak Tree Project here! I'm running in a 10k this weekend to raise awareness and support for Oak Tree Project, a scholarship fund and mentoring program for Korean orphans who get into college. My personal goal is $300, but we still need to raise about $75,000 for next year's scholarships. 

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