sex workers

Uncovering the Truth about 'Kopinos'

In Seoul, South Korea, there’s a red light district called Hooker Hill. It is located in Itaewon, a tourist area filled with shops and restaurants catering mostly to ex-pats and foreigners. It is also very close to U.S. Army Youngsan Garrison Base. Young women seeking work in the region become victims of sex slavery and trafficking. Unfortunately, many of the sex workers at Hooker Hill are Pilipina women who were lured to South Korea for work. While I was in Korea a couple months ago, friends recommended that I keep a low profile when discussing my identity while in Seoul, as young Pilipina women are viewed as low-class citizens among Koreans. This was a harsh reality to come to terms with, for it is both disappointing and infuriating that such a skewed image could be associated with my fellow Pilipinas.

After returning from my trip to Korea, I learned about another connection between the Philippines and Korea that I had not been aware of.

In the Philippines, there is a growing population of Kopinos, with estimates of over 10,000 people. The term ‘Kopino’, coined for individuals who are Korean-Filipino, describes those who are born as a result of the sex tourism industry in the Philippines.

The Korean fathers, who visit the Philippines as tourists, seek out Filipina prostitutes during their stay and then return home. Sometimes, they leave after finding out their partner is pregnant, or are not even aware that they have fathered a child. Often, these Filipina mothers are impoverished teenagers, who have resorted to prostitution as a last resort.

A single Filipina mother and her Korean-Filipino son

Their Kopino children then grow up without a father, and are doomed to face the same realities that their mothers do. Similar to the ‘Amerasian’ (born to US military fathers and Filipino mothers) and ‘Japino’ children in the Philippines, Kopinos experience abandonment early on in their childhood, and are subjected to harsh living conditions and society condemnation. Many are then forced into sex tourism and human trafficking in order to survive, thus making this cyclical reality difficult to stop.

According to an article release by PhilStar earlier this year, nearly half a million Filipinos work as prostitutes within their own country. Other women in the tourism industry, who become mothers to Kopino children, work in guest relations or as bar girls. With the increase of Korean tourists in the Philippines over the past few years, this this problem is becoming increasingly more common.

So why is this relevant to us Fil-Ams?

Today, Korean-Filipinos and supporters are working on a campaign to contact the fathers who left their children behind. These efforts are raising awareness on this issue in the Philippines and in South Korea. Activists are working hard to get these Korean fathers to take responsibility for their children. Some organizations that have been advocating for this issue include TACTEEN, which focuses on eliminating exploitation of Filipino children by Korean tourists, and ECPAT, which works to end child prostitution, pornography and trafficking.

However, their efforts alone cannot change what Kopinos and their mothers face, and will continue to face in the future. While the efforts of these organizations are being portrayed in the Philippines and Korean media, the support it garners is not enough. The tourism industry continues to overlook the issue, so it is rather difficult to enact substantial change.

As members of the greater Pilipino community, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves on this issue. Be it by helping to spread awareness or getting involved in human rights initiatives, we must be active citizens and fight for those who are born into situations beyond their control.

Photo credit: Korea Bang

The Horrors of Sex Trafficking

by Nikki Nalundasan, UniPro Community Building Intern As members of the Filipino American community, it is our job to be knowledgeable of what is going on in our mother country and to make sure awareness is brought to all disturbing issues.  One of these issues is sex trafficking, which is “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act.”  The Philippines is a popular destination and transit country for men, women, and children who are exposed to sex trafficking and forced labor.  It is also a major exporter for these “workers,” while other countries especially the US are major importers. Being in these different countries, these Filipino women live a life in domestic servitude and often face rape and violent physical and sexual abuse.  In addition, they are often subject to threats, inhumane living conditions, and withholding of travel and identity documents.

Not only do sex traffickers from the Philippines export these women to different countries, but they also conduct internal trafficking.  In the Philippines, people are trafficked from rural areas to urban centers including Manila, Cebu, the city of Angeles and other urban areas.  Thousands of victims experience forced prostitution every day in well-known and highly visible business establishments.  Child sex tourism continues to be a serious problem in the Philippines with sex tourists coming from all over the world, including the US, to engage in the commercial sexual exploitation of children.  In addition to having an established organized crime network, the main causes of sex trafficking are poverty, population growth, and high unemployment rates that lead some parents to see child “labor” as a way to cope with their unfortunate financial situations.  Some women who are in similar situations also see prostitution as the only way to make ends meet.

For example, there was a story on ABC news back in February about Arthur Benjamin, a 49-year old man from Texas who owns the Crow Bar near the coastline of Subic Bay in western Philippines.  Caught by hidden cameras, Benjamin admitted that he has had sex with underage girls and partakes in their sexual exploitation with foreign older men.  His girlfriend was only 16-years old and he said, “She needed a place to stay, I needed a place to do her. I bought a bar for her.”  Fortunately, this man has been arrested and his establishment is shut down.  However, this is one of the many bars in the Philippines that participate in sex trafficking. It’s really sad that young women like this are forced to become prostitutes just to get by.

Grace Grande, known as a modern-day concubine, is currently dealing with three different legal issues after leaving her abuser, Patricio Antonio, a very well connected and wealthy politician. She decided to be Antonio’s mistress due to her economic burdens and therefore had no choice but to agree to the relationship. Within those few years, Grace faced emotional, physical and sexual abuse. In 2007, she decided to leave him and start a new life with her two sons in Los Angeles, California.  However, leaving wasn’t that easy for Grace and now faces issues of extradition (which is the where one country transfers a suspected or convicted criminal to another country), asylum (the ability to stay in the U.S.), and risks losing custody of her two sons. Grace and her two sons have been harassed ever since she has been in the U.S. Antonio is basically doing everything he can under his political power to make her come back to the Philippines where he can abuse her even more.

It’s situations like the Grace Grande case and the acts of Arthur Benjamin that make us, as Filipino Americans, realize that sex trafficking should be put to a stop. Considering all the political corruption and poverty occurring in the Philippines, it may seem impossible to eliminate sex trafficking. However, it is our responsibility to create awareness within our society in order to stop this ongoing problem.  These are young women and children who have to sell their bodies just so that they can support their families financially. There are parents out there who literally sell their children to these sex traffickers because they need money. Women shouldn’t have prostitution be their last resort when they are facing financial problems. We should make efforts to improve collaboration between victim service organizations and law enforcement authorities to stop sex trafficking. Being in the FilAm community, we need to recognize the importance of this issue and do something about it. This problem is happening back in our country and our home. Just because these women are thousands of miles away doesn’t mean that their problem isn’t our problem too.  As a true Filipino American community, we should be able to support them and help them escape from this disgusting situation.