Opium: The must-have item for North Korean prostitutes

Wednesday 27th August, 2014

In conversations with several recent North Korean refugees, New Focus has learned that North Korea’s kkotbaggu, which refers to prostitutes and literally refer to the “exchange” (baggu) of “flower” (kkot) with sex, share something they feel they cannot live without.

According to Han Ji-suk, a refugee from Hoeryong who escaped in 2012, “From the start of the Arduous March period, there was a drastic rise in the number of women selling their bodies just to eat.”

“The Arduous March period finished long ago, but there still are many women engaging in prostitution. There are more who don’t consider chastity or honor as being worth anything in the face of hunger. This attitude goes hand in hand with the prevalence of sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs) in the country.”

“But the women have their own ways to deal with STDs,” she adds. “Opium is supposed to prevent STDs.”

“Opium is not considered illegal in North Korea,” she explains. “It is cheap and typically goes for 5,000 won per gram. There is also contraceptive medicine available, but because they are much more expensive than opium, prostitutes don’t consider using them.”

“Contraceptives may prevent pregnancy, but women believe opium prevents and even treats almost all forms of disease. People think of it as a cure-all drug.”

She describes how North Korean prostitutes regularly use opium to protect their bodies: “Lightly mix some water with the opium, and dab a cotton ball in the mixture. Before placing the cotton ball in the vagina, wrap string around it in a cross shape (+) so it can be pulled out more easily.”

“The next day pull the cotton ball out by tugging the string, and the womb is clean. The cotton is supposed to absorb all foreign substances, preventing them from entering the body through the womb,” she explains.

According to refugee Bae Son-gyung from Musan, “I had a friend who was a prostitute for survival means. Opium was a must-have item for her.”

“She got on with her life by injecting opium. I also tried doing that when my cold wouldn’t go away. The shot will make even someone on the verge of death feel a new energy. People don’t normally inject opium, but my friend did so on a weekly basis.”

Women selling sex for food may be a state of affairs that no government would want to justify continuing; but North Korean women who do so to carry on eating take solace, for now, in opium.

Reporting by Chae Da-mi. Read in Korean.
Thumbnail photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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