Report

Sex Slaves: The Prostitution, Cybersex & Forced Marriage of North Korean Women & Girls in China

  • May 20, 2019

In March 2018, the Korea Future Initiative documented widespread gender-based sexual violence in North Korea. Maintaining its focus on under-investigated and under-reported issues, this report moves to China and the tens of thousands of North Korean women and girls trafficked and sold into the sex trade.

The report uncovers and documents: First, a set of factors that leave North Korean women and girls uniquely vulnerable to sex trafficking and the sex trade. Second, a demand for sex slaves in China that is fuelling the exploitation and abuse of North Korean women and girls. Third, a set of pathways that push victims into organised prostitution, cybersex, and forced marriages. Fourth, a complex and inter-connected network of criminality that accrues an estimated $105,000,000 United States Dollars annually from the sale of female North Korean bodies.

The findings in this report stem from careful long-term engagement with victims living in China and exiled survivors in South Korea. Collaboration between victims, survivors, researchers, Chinese citizens, and rescuers allowed for critical on-the-ground investigations and yielded significant discoveries. This report marks the first time that the majority of interviewees felt able to discuss their experiences of sexual violence and sex trafficking — for which the author is truly grateful.

The objective of this report is to provide a brief description of the systematic rape, sex trafficking, sexual slavery, sexual abuse, prostitution, cybersex trafficking, forced marriage, and forced pregnancy of North Korean women and girls in China. Pushed from their homeland by a patriarchal regime that survives through the imposition of tyranny, poverty, and oppression, North Korean women and girls are passed through the hands of traffickers, brokers, and criminal organisations before being pulled into China’s sex trade, where they are exploited and used by men until their bodies are depleted.

At a time when significant global capital is invested in China and, more recently, political capital expended on North Korea, it is a damning indictment that North Korean women and girls are left languishing in the sex trade. Condemnation is insufficient. Only tangible acts can dismantle China’s sex trade, confront a North Korean regime that abhors women, and rescue sex slaves scattered across brothels, remote townships, and cybersex dens in mainland China. That Korea Future Initiative — a small nongovernmental organisation that receives no funding or support from governments, human rights institutions, or grant-giving bodies — was able to uncover abuses largely overlooked by the international community should act as an incentive to all.

With knowledge of great wrongs comes responsibilities. The question remains of who will champion North Korean human rights?