A number of North Korean women trafficked to work in China’s multimillion–dollar sex trade have found freedom and healing thanks to the efforts of a South Korean pastor known as the “Asian Schindler.”
In an interview with CNN, a North Korea defector named “Lee” shared how, for five years, she was imprisoned with a handful of other girls in a tiny apartment in northeast China, after the broker she trusted to plan her escape sold her to a cybersex operator for 30,000 yuan (about $4,500).
“When I found out, I felt so humiliated,” she told CNN. “I started crying and asked to leave, but the boss said he had paid a lot of money for me and I now had a debt toward him.”
For years, Lee was forced to perform various sex acts in a chatroom and was only permitted to leave the tiny apartment once every six months. Her captor, a South Korean man, kept all the girls’ money and physically abused them if they dared to ask for compensation.
In 2015, Lee tried to escape by climbing out of a window and down a metal drain, but she fell and hurt her back and leg, leaving her with a permanent limp. “I felt like dying 1,000 times, but I couldn’t even kill myself as the boss was always watching us,” she said. “During those outings, he would always stay right next to us, so we never got to talk to anyone.”
But in 2018, everything changed.
“One of my customers realized I was North Korean and was being held captive,” said Lee. “He bought a laptop and let me take control of the screen remotely so I could send messages without my boss noticing,” Lee said. The man also gave her the phone number of Chun Ki-Won, a South Korean businessman-turned-pastor who has rescued hundreds of trafficked victims from North Korea over the last few decades.
Chun has been nicknamed the “Asian Schindler” in Korean media for his efforts, after Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist and Nazi Party member who saved the lives of 1,200 Jews.
In September 2018, Lee contacted Chun on KakaoTalk, a Korean messaging service and wrote, “Hi, I want to go to South Korea. Can you help me?”