Not Even A Mention?

KoreaBANG put a heartbreaking news report up about a month ago. I wrote about it then, but never got around to posting it. The report was titled Horrifying Murder of Gimhae Teen Leaves Koreans in Shock – koreaBANG.


I’ll try spare you the goriest of the details–they’re very gory, but some of them are necessary to include, to talk about the case–but the basic story is that a teenaged girl was essentially abducted, forced into sex slavery, then returned to her father, then abducted again, brutally tortured to death, and then her corpse was burned and concealed beneath concrete by her killers so her family was left wondering what had happened to her.

I can’t speak to general coverage of the case, but in terms of the one article available in translation at the link, something caught my eye… something missing:

Going back to this past March 15th, Yoon had recently started her first year of high school. Following Kim, she left home and went with him to Busan. They stayed together in an inn there. Kim and the others uploaded information about Yoon to look for a man for her to meet, and pressured Yoon into sex work. This sex work is how they made money for living expenses.

On March 29th, when Kim and the others found out that Yoon’s father reported her disappearance, she was sent back home to set her father’s mind at ease. They made her promise “not to tell anyone about being forced into sex work.” However, fearing she would tell someone, the next day on the 30th, they found her at her church, made her get into a car, and took her to an Ulsan motel.

Earlier in the article, it’s mentioned that Kim is 25, while the victim was 15.

Now, think about that for a second:

25 year old man successfully checks into multiple hotels in multiple cities with a 15 year old girl (who obviously isn’t his daughter). And nobody checks into it at any of the hotels.

On top of that, it’s highly likely that all of the men who paid for sex with that 15 year old girl were also checking into hotel rooms with her, or perhaps visiting rooms in which she was being kept prisoner. And note also that this girl was experiencing varying degrees of torture, battery, and violence along the way. Bruised, traumatized, and terrified, she was checked into and out of hotel rooms even while in obvious need of serious, immediate medical attention. The one chance she got to seek help, she went online, instead of going straight to the clerk and begging for a call to the police or hospital. By the time she was actually murdered (in a car parked in a parking lot outside a “motel”), her body was already covered in severe burns, and she’d been beaten severely… and not a single soul in any of the hotels had lifted a finger to intervene.

And somehow, this mind-boggling fact apparently isn’t even noteworthy.  

The fact that these people were operating a child sex slavery ring in the open, in full view of the people working the front desks of how many low-price motels in multiple cities, and violently tortured a girl in a room, and then murdered her in the parking lot, and did so with even attracting attention? 

Nope. That doesn’t even draw comment.

And why would it? Why in the world would any motel staff ever, you know… pay attention to who checks into a room? Or, you know, call the police when someone has to be half-carried out of a room?

Well that, I’m afraid, is just common as dirt. For example, a few years ago it was found that one-fourth of teenaged runaway girls in Korea–in total, tens of thousands of them–have had some experience with prostitution. You can bet that a lot of those exchanges took place in the same kinds of “motels” (called “yeogwans”) as well.

The negligence goes beyond that, of course: yeogwans in South Korea routinely (ie. daily) allow men to check in with adult women who are heavily intoxicated, too. It’s a nightly ritual played out shamelessly at many a subway or train station in the Seoul area: drunk guy, dead-drunk girl, and the short stumble to a nearby motel. Not a soul intervenes. (I tried once, many years ago, until bystanders stopped me.) This kind of thing is just taken for granted, so much so that predatory types make a point of getting women as drunk as they can before attempting to hauling them off to a paid-by-the-hour motel room for a quick rape.

(It was in fact a strategy used by predatory undergrad males on female exchange students at my own university, combined with the familiar claim, “In Korean culture, when a senior tells you to drink, you must obey.” And, yes, when I discovered it was more than an isolated incident, I tried to raise awareness among faculty, as students tried to get administration to address the issue. On both counts, the response was the typical one:


… which prompted us to organize the female exchange students so they could better raise awareness through the grapevine.)


And before someone clever pipes in and notes that, goshdarn it, the check in window at most motels are designed to make it hard for the clerk to see who or what is in the lobby, for the privacy and secrecy of the guests, yes, I know:

Taken from a Tripadvisor page for an actual "motel" in Korea. Click for source.
Taken from a Tripadvisor page for an actual “motel” in Korea. Click for source.

The problem is that this is not a design feature, but a design flaw. It demonstrably aids in the operation of crime on the premises. So the privacy of adulterers (to whom this is designed to cater) be damned: front desks need to be opened up (or required to have transparent barriers, allowing clerks to see the people checking into a room), and clerks need to be given some degree of legal responsibility for the decision to rent a room to people in a compromised position–whether because they’re underage, or intoxicated–as well as the decision not to involve authorities when it seems someone is in need of help during their stay.

(I have trouble believing a girl could have boiling water poured onto her multiple times without crying for help. And indeed, the girl in question actually went online at one point to seek help… why should couldn’t approach the front desk clerk is an important question. Either the clerk was in on it–which is entirely possible–or else the girl, the clerk, her enslavers, and everyone else simply were following a script in which the clerk had no responsibility or duty whatsoever. Given that it was multiple hotels over time, I’m betting on the latter.)

Oh, and I’m sure some people will say that clerks refusing customers is unrealistic, so I’ll add that when we were engaged, Mrs. Jiwaku and I visited Kyeongju and were very specifically warned that most motels would not let a foreigner and a Korean stay in the same room together. (We never encountered that, but we were very sternly warned about it being common practice in the city by a tourist desk clerk at the train station.) Well, if hotel clerks can stand up for xenophobia, I think they can bloody well take a stand against teen prostitution, sex slavery rings, and murder.

Of course, it’s a bigger cultural change that’s needed. The belief in looking out for another human being–who isn’t relative or a personal friend–has declined in Korea, as urbanization has steamrolled the society (leaving the culture’s older methods of organization in shambles), and more than anything else, it’s this social change that facilitates horror stories like the crime reported above.

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