Girls’ Outcry: Information Technology, Girl-Trafficking,
and Girls’ Rights in the Age of Globalization1)
President, Sookmyung Women’s University, Korea
UNESCO ChairHolder in Communication Technology for Women
The arrival of new information technology, especially the Internet - the
computer based telecommunications system -, has dramatically changed our
lives. From surveying the public opinions to obtaining corporate consultation
and to socializing, our lives have been affected by the emergence of internet
usage in our culture. In this transitional period during the past 10 years,
one prominent phenomenon has been developed in our on/off cyber culture
which calls for our special attention; it is the concurrent development of
Internet and sex industry over which they worked well together drawing
mutual benefit from each other’s immoral business.
The Internet and the sex industry2) no longer exist apart from each other.
The sex industry is one of the first industries that have adopted the Internet
system and made the substantial use of it as soon as its use was
commercialized. At the same time, the sex industry has found itself in the
constant need of more and more new technologies to meet its growing internet
business and has heavily relied on them. To summarize, they have become
co-partners who drew a huge profit from the development and proliferation
of each other’s industry.
1) This paper is the keynote spech presented at the 2004 UNESCO CHAIR International
symposium on “Girls Caught in the web”: The Inter, Sexual Violence, and Girls’ Rights
held on 8 October 2004 at Sookmyung Women’s University, Seoul, South Korea.
2) I follow Donna Hughes’s definition of sex industry, which is “the collection of legal and
illegal and single and multi-party operations that profit from the selling of women and
children through trafficking, organized prostitution and/or pornography” (Hughes,
2000, p. 3).
130 ꌜ Kyungsook Lee
There is no doubt that the more sexual industry becomes lucrative, the
more its industry will expand. Recently the media and experts’ reports have
revealed that many girls have become the target of sex industry and were
manipulated by it as sexual slaves in sexual trafficking business. At the time
the internet use has become the substantial part of our modern lives, we
need to pay our special attention to these matters because they are the
by-product of the 21st century’s advancement in the information and
communication technology which can ultimately threaten the human rights
of women and young girls.
Therefore, we would like to raise the following questions during this
∙Is there any essential link among the proliferation of internet use, the
sexual abuse of those girls who became the sexual commodity, and the
growth of sexual trafficking business?
∙What is the medium which links these girls to the sex industry?
∙What hardships these girls have to endure after they are sexually
exploited through sexual trafficking?
∙What is the living condition of these girls who have escaped from the
chain of sex industry?
∙How should we respond to and take the measures against the sexual
violence which has been imposed on these unprotected girls?
∙What are the preventive measures which can provide these girls with
the means of recovering and guaranteeing their deprived human rights?
Focusing on the points made above, I would like to discuss a few matters
during the remaining part of my speech. First, I will briefly discuss the
contexts in which this problem has emerged as the global issue. And then,
I will discuss the sexual trafficking, harassment, and violence of young girls
which are prevalent in the Internet culture. At the end, I will propose to
each participant of this conference to join together to form a global network
and partnership in order to positively resolve these troublesome issues. This
symposium will be the starting point of achieving our joint initiatives.
Asian Women 2005 Vol.20 ꌜ 131
The Internet, the Sex Industry, and the Global Sex Trafficking of Girls
Over the last 10 years, the process of globalization has brought widespread
political and economic restructuring among many regions and countries
around the world. The overall shifts across population, employment, and
wealth relocation subsequently followed. The main task force behind the
globalization movement was the innovative revolution in the fields of
information and communication technology. In particular, the advent of
internet technology, which shortened the transmission time of sending multi
media mail consisting of a mixture of text, graphics, voice, fax and other
types of information around the world where computers are connected by
some means, has accelerated the globalization process.
The worldwide network base enhanced the growth of global on line
industry and commerce. In the midst of such changing business environment,
one of the fastest grown global business transactions is the sexual trafficking
of women and young girls. They have become the major commodities of sex
industry where they were exploited by criminal organizations, sex traffickers,
and pimps who would do anything for their greed even at the expense of
these young girls’ human rights. In fact, the selling of young women into
the sex industry has become one of the fastest growing international criminal
enterprises and earned traffickers an estimated income of US 6 billion dollars
per year (Hughes, 2000).
The growth of the Internet is closely tied with the rapid expansion of
the sex industry and trafficking business. Relying on the interdependent
growth of financial enrichment and technological development, the sex and
internet industry worked together to spread worldwide sexual exploitation.
The sex industry exceeds the top 5 groups with regard to the extent of
purchasing the state-of-the art computer equipments and the capacity of
its usage. According to the reports, the sex industries were the first to buy
and use the most expensive T3 phone lines that transmit compressed,
high-resolution images. In 1998, US$1 billion was spent on the online “adult
content” which amounts to 69 percent of the total Internet contents sales
income. In 2000, it was estimated that there exist some 280,000 sex industry
132 ꌜ Kyungsook Lee
sites on the internet (Hughes, 2000).
It is quite convincing that the communication and information technology
adopted for the internet use has provided the sex industries with the new
medium for advertising, marketing, delivering, and exploiting women and
Undoubtedly, the Internet, as the medium for communication and
informational technology, has provided the sex industry with new tools of
advertising, marketing, delivering, and exploiting women and children to
male buyers. The sex industry makes the multiple use of the Internet in
order to promote the sexual exploitation and trafficking of young girls and
women. Pimps use the Internet to advertise prostitution tours.
It’s the reality of cyber space that it executes the user’s command to find
the worldwide locations of listed adult and child prostitutes from the
information contained in the various commercial web sites and non-
commercial news-groups. Furthermore, new technologies and high speed
transmission on the Internet make it possible to engage its users in live video
chat, which is used to transmit strip shows, live sex shows, and live Web
cams (continuous transmission of live images)(Hughes, 2001). As soon as the
live videoconferencing technique was introduced to feature a live person-to-
person video and audio transmission in the Internet, this revolutionary video
technology was used to deliver strip and live sex shows in the internet to
the purchaser of such sex commodity in late 1995. In line with their mutual
interest in technological development and financial growth, the sex and
internet industry have been closely linked together to proliferate the sexual
exploitation of women and children; it still continues to expand in the
In particular, as researchers and journalists suggest, an increasing
number of girls and young women are being trafficked into the sexual
industry (Landesman, 2004; Lee, 2004). Given the fact that not only they
can be accessed through the internet but also they are identified as the major
players of the internet, it might be appropriate to point that there exist a
close relationship among internet usage, commercialization of sex, and sexual
trafficking of young girls. With such potential connection in mind, I am going
Asian Women 2005 Vol.20 ꌜ 133
to deal with some of the problems associated with the sexual trafficking of
Girl-trafficking and Current Challenges
It would be hard to imagine that young girls would voluntarily enter in
the business of sexual trafficking; more often, they would be forced to get
involved in the sex industry. Once they are trafficked and coerced into the
industry, their lives will be strictly controlled. The reports have been made
that these women and young girls stuck in such tightly controlled manner
are often physically assaulted and even raped. A recent research about women
prostitutes in San Francisco indicates that 8 percent of them had been
physically assaulted and 68 percent raped while they were in prostitution
business. In addition, some 68 percent of these women severely suffered from
post-traumatic stress disorder (Farley & Harkan, 1998).
The electronic trading of prostitution and pornography in the internet
poses even more serious challenges. The young girls’ and women’s bodies
are more commercialized and exposed as sexual commodity to the purchasing
power of male viewer across the national boundaries. While women’s sexuality
and body are treated as sexual commodities which are displayed and traded
in the internet, they are seriously deprived of the basic human rights such
as self-respect and bodily integrity (Hughes, 1997). Furthermore, trafficking
presents a potential threat to the health of these women and girls who are
enslaved in the sex industry. The risk of contracting HIV infection among
them is a major health issue which affects not only these infected women
but also millions of others who can be the innocent victims of AIDS epidemics
across the nations.
We can briefly summarize that the proliferation of global sex industry
through the Internet deepens the magnitude of sexual harassment and
exploitation of women as well as potential spreading risk of the deadly disease
134 ꌜ Kyungsook Lee
Considering the severity of trafficking of girls and their violated human
rights, the government policy makers, NGOs, and researchers need to work
together from a global point of the view. Compared to adult women, I think
we need to pay more careful attention to the mattes of trafficking of girls
to the sex industry and the sexual violence and exploitation imposed on them
in such unhealthy environment. I wish this conference can provide you with
the opportunity to get down to the heart of these challenging matters and
to discuss them openly in search of common solutions. I believe our collective
endeavors will guide us in finding some constructive preventive measures
against sexual trafficking and exploitation of young girls at the face of growing
global Internet and sex industry.
Asian Women 2005 Vol.20 ꌜ 135
Farley, M. & Harkan, H. (1998). “Prostitution, Violence against Women,
and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.” Women and Health, 27(3), 37-49.
Hughes, D. (1997). “Sex Tourism via the Internet.” Feminista! The Online
of Feminist Construction, 1(7).
__________. (2000). “The Internet and Sex Industries: Partners in Global
Sexual Exploitation.” IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, 35-42.
__________. (2001/winter). “Globalization, Information Technology, and
Sexual Exploitation of Women and Children.” Rain and Thunder: A
Radical Feminist Journal of Discussion and Activism, 13.
Landesman, P. (2004/January 25). “The Girls Next Door.” The New York
Lee, M. A. (2004, February 24). “Women and Children for Sale: The
Globalization of Sexual Slavery.” The San Francisco Bay Guardian,
Biographical Note: Kyungsook Lee is the President of Sookmyung Women's
University, Seoul, Korea. She received her doctorate in International Politics
and Comparative Politics from the University of South Carolina in 1975. She
served as a member of the National Assembly for the Republic of Korea
from 1981 to 1985, and the Vice-Chairperson on Korean National Commission
for UNESCO from 2003 to 2005. She has been the Advisor at the Council
of Advisors on Korean Unification of the Republic of Korea, and the
UNESCO Chair on Communication and Technology for Women since 1998.
In addition, she is the Commissioner of Private Advisory Committee for
APEC 2005 Korea.