No way out

"No way out" Continued...

Issue: "TNIV makes its debut," Feb. 23, 2002

The victims in Kunsan were apparently brought in from other parts of South Korea. But imports of forced prostitutes have risen sharply in the last year, according to The Protection Project, a research data bank on trafficking based at Johns Hopkins University. In one instance over 600 Filipino women were recruited as hostesses or receptionists and forced into prostitution. Philippine authorities asked the government in Seoul for help to stop the trafficking. In a separate case, police arrested bar owners and employment agents in connection with over 50 imported Russian prostitutes.

After the fire in Kunsan, police in Seoul launched a sweep of its red-light districts, beginning on Feb. 7. The first day they found four brothels equipped with locks similar to those discovered in Kunsan, and removed them.

The victims in Kunsan were not the first to get burned. In September 2000, five died after fire erupted in a bar in the same district. Bar managers had locked gates and installed iron bars over all windows, prohibiting escape. "Last week's tragedy proves that little has changed during the past two years," said Korean Women's Associations United activist Kim Ki Seon-mi.

That's why activists like Mr. Haugen believe pressure from the U.S. government is key. Mr. Haugen launched International Justice Mission in 1996 after receiving reports of sex trafficking from evangelical mission organizations abroad. They discovered local authorities participating in the abuses, and to intervene jeopardized the viability of missions work. The International Justice Mission supplies outside Christian legal and political experts who investigate-often undercover-and expose sex-trafficking rings.

The work places Mr. Haugen in a coalition that includes feminists and liberal human-rights organizers, as well as other faith-based groups. He joined actor Robert Redford and other headliners at a Feb. 7 ceremony in Salt Lake City coinciding with the Winter Olympics. Mr. Redford presented one of three 2002 Reebok Human Rights Awards to Maili Lama, a 25-year-old Nepali once held in a Bombay brothel. International Justice Mission nominated Ms. Lama, who now works to rescue trafficked women.

Mr. Haugen said he does not have to hold his nose to be part of such a politically diverse gathering. "When you are looking at girls living in brothels, it cuts to the quick. You lose patience for the trivialities that divide us."


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