By Vidya Ramaswamy, Staff Writer
On Friday, Nov. 11th, the Jubilee Project documentary film “Save My Seoul” screened in Thomas, with a chance to hear from the directory afterward. The film focuses on the problems, often hidden to locals, of sex trafficking in South Korea.
In 2012, the Jubilee Project released a fictional short film on sex trafficking, called “Back to Innocence,” which can be found on YouTube. After seeing this film, a Korean church pastor reached out to the group and persuaded them to make a film on the hidden but widespread sex trafficking culture in South Korea – one that wasn’t fictional. After talking to the pastor, Jubilee Project Founder and Film Director Jason Lee traveled with his brother Eddie to South Korea, where they spent three years researching, interviewing, and gathering content for the film.
While there, they asked a number of South Korean civilians about their opinions of prostitution. Many of those interviewed did not think it was a significant problem.
“As long as there are men and women in the world, it cannot be avoided,” one of the interviewed men said.
When asked why they thought women chose to become prostitutes, most said that it was simply to make money. When asked if they ever thought of prostitutes as victims, most said that they did not because the prostitutes voluntarily chose to become prostitutes.
When Jason and Eddie tried to find sex workers to interview, most refused to be shown on camera. Then they found Crystal and Esther.
Although Crystal and Esther’s faces were not revealed, they spoke openly about their experiences as sex workers. They were both forced into the sex industry after running away from home and having no other way to earn money or make a living. In fact, more than 80% of minors in the Korean sex trade industry are runaways. Around 200,000 young people run away from home annually, and most end up as sex workers. Crystal and Esther revealed that prostitutes in Korea endure lots of physical and verbal abuse. They also often find themselves in lots of debt, as they end up owing their pimps large sums of money.
“After ten years, I checked my bank account,” one interviewee said. “I had no money, but I owed my pimp thousands of dollars.”
Unfortunately, the Korean sex trade industry does not lack customers: although most of the civilians interviewed expressed negative sentiments about sex workers, five out of ten Korean men admit to having paid for sex at least once in their lifetime.
There are NGOs dedicated to helping sex workers escape the industry and put an end to the cycle. At the same time, Korea does not want to draw attention to the issue. Fortunately, the end of the film revealed that Crystal and Esther were saved by an NGO. Esther is currently in college studying to help former and current sex workers.
Jason Lee was present for the screening and held a Q&A session after the film. During this time, he told the audience that Crystal passed away about three months ago. Although they are unsure of the cause, they suspect suicide. When asked how people can help the cause, Lee advised men to think about how they treat women, and women to think about how they should be treated. He also encouraged everyone to go to www.savemyseoul.com and join the movement.