Why were Laura Ling and Euna Lee in North Korea?

Absent from reporting on the imprisonment and release of Laura Ling and Euna Lee, which has taken the disturbing turn of focusing on the power dynamic between the Clintons, is the story the journalists were investigating in the first place. A piece by Ji-Yeon Yuh at the Women’s Media Center discusses this story: human trafficking.

Proportionally, the trafficking of North Korean women into China is a small part of an enormous worldwide criminal enterprise. However, of North Korean women and girl refugees in China, an estimated 80 to 90 percent are victims of trafficking. This is likely the highest percentage of trafficking in a single population.

The available evidence points to a dramatic expansion in the trafficking of North Korean women over the past decade. Based on the aid workers’ estimate that 80 to 90 percent of the female refugees are trafficking victims, there could be as many as 168,000 trafficked North Korean women and girls in China, and thousands cross the border each year.
It is no longer a case of local Chinese gangsters tricking North Korean women already in China and selling them as wives to rural bachelors. It is now a systematic, albeit sprawling industry operating in both North Korea and China that lures North Korean women with promises of jobs and then sells them into commercial sex work or into servitude as personal laborers and sex slaves–“wives”–for men. While once North Korean women were sold primarily in areas bordering North Korea, now there is evidence that they are being sold throughout the area north of Beijing.

The article puts the situation in North Korea in a global context, including broad information on worldwide human trafficking. As Ji-Yeon Yuh points out, the arrest of Laura Ling and Euna Lee speaks to the danger of investigating human trafficking and the need for this important work.
The fact is, the slave trade has not gone away. Two women just went through hell because of this. Millions more people, the overwhelming majority of whom are women and girls, are trapped in this horrific reality. Human trafficking deserves much more of our attention.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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