Archive for May 16th, 2013

Words that are saturated with lies or atrocity, do not easily resume life.  –  George Steiner

Busybodies simply adore dysphemisms; they’re one of the moralists’ chief weapons in transforming a fact of life into a “menace”, a statement into a “shocking revelation”, a thing they dislike into something “seedy” or discussion of a taboo subject into a “conspiracy”.  The ignorant, naïve or spineless are actually influenced by these words, while the better-informed and more reasonable may simply dismiss them as empty rhetoric.  But when one takes the time to actually look, one begins to see that they’re not simply insulting and manipulative, but ludicrous and self-evidently wrong.  Here’s an illustrative example on the South Korean sex industry, which is extremely typical for articles of its kind:

South Korea, a wealthy, powerful Asian…technology hub and stalwart U.S. ally, has a deep, dark secret.  Prostitution…[flourishes] in South Korea just under the country’s shiny surface.  Despite its illegality…the sex trade is so huge that the government once admitted it accounts for as much as 4 percent of…Gross Domestic Product — about the size of the fishing and agriculture industries combined.  Indeed, paid sex is available all over South Korea – in coffee shops, motels, hotels, shopping malls, the barber shop, as well as the so-called juicy bars frequented by American soldiers and the red-light districts which operate openly.  Internet chat rooms and cell phones have opened up whole new streams of business for ambitious prostitutes and pimps.

super-secret (and DARK) Seoul red light districtThe self-contradiction begins from the very first line:  If the sex trade is so all-pervasive, how can it also be said to be a “deep, dark secret”?  The fact is that it’s not a secret at all, and never has been; it’s just that the phrase “deep, dark secret” is actually code for another, more obviously subjective word: “shameful”.  A secret is something which is hidden, which the South Korean sex industry isn’t; “dark” implies something unpleasant or harmful, which almost nobody in South Korea really believes despite the extensive lip service paid to the notion in Korean culture.  Prostitution was only criminalized in 1961 (at the urging of the United States, naturally), and police, whores and clients alike virtually ignored the law for more than 40 years, carrying on just as they always had.  But American cultural imperialism refused to be denied, and in 2004 harsh new Swedish-flavored laws were implemented in response to US demands that Seoul “do something” about the nearly-nonexistent “problem” of “sex trafficking”.  The fixation with the word “pimp” probably dates to this period; I see it used more often in stories about South Korea than in any other articles (discounting pure prohibitionist hatespew).

The…Ministry for Gender Equality estimates that about 500,000 women work in the national sex industry, though, according to the Korean Feminist Association, the actual number may exceed 1 million.  This means that 1 out of every 25 women in the country might be selling their bodies for sex — despite the passage of tough anti-sex-trafficking legislation in recent years.  (For women between the ages of 15 and 29, up to one-fifth have worked in the sex industry at one time or another, according to estimates)…

The phrase “selling their bodies for sex” is such a clichéd inanity I almost hesitate to call attention to it, but I find it almost incomprehensible that it’s still being passed around.  It’s almost as though some people actually believe that after one transaction whores become spiritual beings (after all, when one “sells” something the buyer generally takes it with him when he leaves) who then, presumably, reincarnate like the Dalai Lama and return to the brothel to “sell” their instantly-grown, identical new bodies again.  One wonders what happens to all the old bodies, however; I reckon once the men are done with them, they flush them down the loo like unwanted goldfish or “child sex slaves”.  For comparison: if it’s true that 4% of South Korean women work in the sex trade, that’s roughly comparable to 19th-century Europe and America, which given the comparable levels of industrialization and similar social hypocrisy about sex is wholly unsurprising.

Indeed, the sex industry…is so open that prostitutes periodically stage public protest demonstrations to express their anger over anti-prostitution laws.  Bizarrely, like Tibetan monks protesting China’s brutal rule of their homeland, some Korean prostitutes even set themselves on fire to promote their cause.

Korean sex worker fire protestA reporter who lives in New York (where prostitutes periodically stage public protest demonstrations despite criminalization) considers it “bizarre” that people strongly resist tyrannical attempts to destroy their businesses and virtually enslave them.  I wonder how he would react to the police violently smashing their way into his office, arresting everyone, forcing him into “rehabilitation”, then consigning him to work he hated at 5-10% of his former salary?  Besides, since he apparently believes Korean harlots have the power of voluntary metempsychosis, it seems as though he would consider their behaving like Buddhist monks to be entirely predictable.

…According to the government-run Korean Institute of Criminology, one-fifth of men in their 20s buy sex at least four times a month, creating an endless customer base for prostitutes…

One-fifth of American men buy sex “occasionally” (i.e. closer to four times a year rather than a month) and only 6% “frequently”.  If the Korean figure is correct, it makes the claim that the sex industry is a “secret” even more absurd.

From here, the article rapidly proceeds into the typical “child sex slavery” garbage, liberally sprinkled with phrases like “descending into the business of sex” and “illicit trade”; young women are intentionally conflated with “children” in the American style, so that the well-known Asian preference for youth is equated with pedophilia.  Furthermore, the age of consent in South Korea is 13, while the age of legal majority is 19 by Western reckoning (20 by the Korean calendar).  So when “Yun Hee-jun, a Seoul-based anti-sex trafficker, told the Times:  ‘On online community websites, you can easily find information about prices for sex with minors and the best places to go’,” he was being extremely duplicitous; up until 2011 it was completely legal for a South Korean man to have sex with a “minor”, presuming she was at least 13 (which as we know, the vast, vast majority are).  But beginning with the 2008 “Trafficking in Persons Report”, the US began to pressure the government to “crack down” on what American law defines as “sex trafficking” (whether it actually is or not), and early in 2011 Seoul decided to “out-Herod Herod” by raising the age of consent to that of legal majority…possibly the highest in the world.  It is unclear whether the new law applies to all sex, or only that in which the older person is somehow “superior” to the younger (wealthier, in a position of authority, etc); try googling “age of consent South Korea” and you’ll see that nobody in or out of the country is entirely sure.  And that makes moralizing about “underage prostitution” disingenuous at best, and at worst flagrantly dishonest.

Filipino juicy girlsMoving on, we find author Palash Ghosh either drinking deeply of the Kool-aid or expecting his readers to.  He says that “women from…The Philippines, flock to South Korea to work as prostitutes and ‘bar girls’ (lured by the promises of legitimate work as waitresses or entertainers)”; Dr. Rhacel Parrenas  demonstrated that parenthetical comment to be an outright lie.  We are also told that “The prevalence of prostitution in contemporary South Korea provides an ironic counterpoint to the passionate political activism of elderly Korean women who relentlessly criticize Japan for their servitude as prostitutes and comfort women during Tokyo’s brutal occupation of their country”, but only a moral imbecile could find irony in the idea that people who choose to do something for good pay under pleasant conditions have very different attitudes about it than those who were forced at gunpoint to do it without any pay under horrific conditions.

The fact that Korea has had a thriving and legal sex industry since at least the Middle Ages is pushed down nearly to the bottom of the story, as is the fact that Park Chung-hee “actually encouraged the sex trade in order to generate much-needed revenue…[from] thousands of U.S. troops stationed in the country.”  Ghosh then quickly changes the subject to North Korean refugees who work to pay off “people-smugglers”, and refuses to recognize that the poor conditions under which these unfortunates work are made possible by criminalization.  He even seems surprised that Korean sex workers have challenged the 2004 law, the injustice and tyranny of which is easily recognized by anyone whose mind is not enveloped in a fog of dysphemisms and burdened by the misapprehension that they represent something even remotely akin to reality.

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