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(Yonhap Feature) Expats, locals gather for anti-prostitution flash mob

By Elysabeth Hahm
Contributing writer
SEOUL, Jan. 20 (Yonhap) -- Expats can commonly be found in Seoul's large array of bars and restaurants on any given weekend. But on one recent Saturday, a group of 50 expats spent their night roaming the streets of Seoul, not looking for a fun night out, but rather to pick up cards and fliers advertising prostitution.

   The flash mob, which was organized through Facebook, called for all foreigners in Seoul to give a voice to the voiceless.

   "We know that this isn't the most effective way to do things, but with a big group of foreigners, it's the easiest thing we can do," said Korean native Chung Yoon-ju, one of the flash mob organizers. "Just by us being here, people are becoming more aware. One guy came up to us and shook my hand. He was very encouraging for what we're doing."

   The group targeted Gangnam and Seollung, the southern and richer part of Seoul, where people are paid to hand out and scatter business card-sized ads and fliers soliciting sexual services. Such activities have long been complained against, especially by parents who sometimes walk through the streets with their children and people who find the featured photos offensive.

Expats pick up fliers soliciting sexual services during an anti-prostitution flash mob. (Courtesy of Elysabeth Hahm)

California-native Jamie Lee, a volunteer, overheard a variety of comments from bystanders and native Koreans, whose curiosity was piqued by the large crowd of foreigners going through one of the busiest areas of Seoul.

   "I heard a couple of girls say that we're being too aggressive and too forward with the amount of people here, picking up these fliers," Lee said. "Inevitably, everyone is questioning what we're doing."

   But 28-year-old Kristin Singletary, the main organizer of the flash mob, insisted that aggression was not the group's intention.

   "Perhaps the number of people could be seen as aggressive," Singletary said. "But our intentions are not aggressive. We're just a group of foreigners who want to abolish slavery in Korea, but we're not accusing Koreans of being wrong."

   "We're trying to work together," Singletary added. "We're on Korea's side."

   In the past, it was just Singletary and a few friends who would collect cards on various occasions. It wasn't until someone approached her with the idea of the flash mob that she even considered rallying a large group of foreigners together.

   "I thought it was a great idea, so I met with some friends and we made it happen," Singletary said.

   What they discovered was that a bigger group boosted the morale of the volunteers.

   In fact, just a few weeks prior, a small group of foreigners went to the same area to do a smaller-scale version of the event. With just a few individuals, however, they found the atmosphere to be much different.

   "It was much more intimidating," Chung explained. "We'd pick up all the cards and fliers, but just moments later, guys would come out and drop off more cards right where we just cleaned up... This time around was much more different."

   Reactions of passers-by were also positive, according to Singletary. "A lot of people were very encouraged from the mob and, at one point, some Koreans expressed that they wanted to be out here helping us, but they couldn't because people would get the wrong idea and think they are picking up the cards to use the services," she said.


After spending more than an hour and a half picking up the cards and ads from the ground, the group made their way to the headquarters of the National Police Agency to drop off the bags that contained all of the collected fliers. Their experience there, however, was not as successful as they had hoped.

   Upon arriving, the guard outside told them that no one was there, nothing can be done and that they should go somewhere else. But the group insisted.

   "We told the guard that smaller police stations suggested we go to the headquarters because they didn't have the power or resources to investigate into this matter," Singletary explained.

   Eventually, a superior met the group outside to hear their concerns. Even though he refused to take the cards at first, he eventually relented. According to Singletary, the superior said that he couldn't make any promises that the cleaning lady wouldn't throw the cards away.

   "We were pretty discouraged," Singletary said. "We just didn't feel like we were taken very seriously."

   But with plans to make the video of the event go viral and to organize another flash mob for February or March, the future looks hopeful.

   "Our goal is raise awareness," Chung said. "We know that this isn't going to tip the scale instantly. But, spirit-wise, I feel like we're making a difference."