Traumatized Defectors: North Korean Women, Sexual Violence, and Depression
Since the end of February this year, mass media coverage of North Korea, while frequent, has focused only on reporting, analyzing, and conjecturing the brinkmanship of North Korea. Unfortunately, the story of the March 18 murder of a North Korean female defector living in South Korea involved in prostitution has completely slipped through the cracks of English-language media. It was barely covered in South Korean media as well.
According to Yonhap, the woman (Ms. Kim), 45, defected to South Korea in 2002. According to police in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province, she was found dead by the manager of the motel at 11:20 p.m. The alleged killer (who has since confessed), a client of Ms. Kim, had checked into the motel early that day. Deeming it a tragedy (비극), what is interesting is that some the South Korean news sources have used it as a way to discuss the plight of female North Korean defectors in their own country.
So explains the remainder of the story by the Seoul Economic Daily:
The Yonsei University Graduate School of Social Welfare, commissioned by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, conducted a study of 140 female defectors aged 20-50 from March through August 2012. According to the results of the study, 26.4% of women showed signs of depression. This far exceeds the national average of 6.7% among adults (male and female) who experience depression, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare. The rate of PTSD is 57.6%, and the rate of attempted suicide is a staggering 45.7%.
The article claims that the reasons these female defectors experience these sorts of psychological and physical harm is by passing through a third country from North Korea to South Korean society, the process of settling can cause harm, including sexual violence. According to the survey, 14.3% (20 women) of the respondents said they were victims to sexual violence or molestation when they were in North Korea, 17.9% (25 women) in the third country, and 12.1% (17 women) experienced it after settling in South Korea.
Without any reference to the South Korean women involved in the sex industry, the coverage focuses on North Korean women. Indeed, most news coverage of prostitution in South Korea relates to men’s patronage, rather than women’s involvement.
A considerable number of female defectors are exposed to the dangers of prostitution. 11.4% (16 women) said they were victims of prostitution. The report revealed that in North Korea and South Korea, respectively, 5.7%(8 women) and 4.3%(6 women) had an experience with prostitution. The women not involved with prostitution who were urged to become involved with prostitution was 30% (30 women).
The reader is left to conclude that the defectors’ extraordinary circumstances are what expose them to increased exposure to sexual violence, depression, and prostitution. While this is certainly true, such phrasing, without any comparison to South Korean-born women or foreign women living in Korea, reifies the line demarcating the “our women” and the “North Korean” women.
Blog by: Darcie Draudt