South Korea: Suicide Actress's Memoirs Claim Sex Exploitation

South Korean netizens are busy discussing deceased actress Ja-Yeon Jang's memoirs, which contain claims that she was a victim of career-related sexual exploitation.

The struggling 26-year-old actress who committed suicide in March 2009, left about 50 letters listing the names of 31 people who she alleged exploited and abused her.

The letters, which amount to several hundred pages, divulge that she had been forced to provide ‘sexual services’ [direct translation] to powerful figures in order to get acting roles or to merely please powerful individuals within the industry. They unveiled the real names of four corporation executives, two financial industry executives, two newspaper company heads, six entertainment management agency representatives, seven television producers and eight movie directors, and more have also been mentioned.

Ja-yeon Jang's funeral. Still from video posted by Youtube user BAKANEKO99.

Ja-yeon Jang's funeral. Still from video posted by Youtube user BAKANEKO99.

An unofficial version of Jang's list is already circulating online and tweets urging the police and media outlets to leak the documents have soared over few days.

Desperate Cry for Help

It has been over two years since the public first heard about the existence of Jang's documents. After her death, huge public attention was given to the issue but police soon dropped the case due to lack of hard evidences and doubts as to the credibility of the letters.

Although her desperate cry for help gradually faded from the public memory, on March 5, 2011, one of South Korea's major television broadcasters, SBS (Seoul Broadcasting Station), made a special documentary in which experts confirmed the authenticity of Jang's letters.

She is believed to have left the letters with former manage Mr Yu, pleading for revenge on her behalf.

Jang wrote that she had been dragged to meet them those authority figures mentioned in the documents over a hundred times; she also claimed that other aspiring teenage actresses had often accompanied her.

South Korea's Kukinews revealed several paragraphs from the letters [ko] where Jang described how she had been deceived, exploited and abused.

The head of Jang's management agency has come under fire after it was belatedly revealed that three other female entertainers, even South Korea's national sweetheart, Choi Jin-shil, committed suicide while they were under contract with his company.

“31 Devils”

South Korean tweeps, referring to the 31 people from the list as the “31 devils”, have urged the police to re-investigate the case more thoroughly. Twitter user Jo-young Hwan(@bluedragon1376) says [ko]:

@QuoVadisKorea 악마31명 이름을 밝히고 악마31명도 법에 처벌을 받고 사건을 은폐하고 축소한 것이 있다면 관련 경찰도 엄중히 처벌 해야 합니다 고위층 성매매은 범죄가 안되고 평범한 시민이 성매매하는것은 범죄라고 하는 처벌하는 경찰 처벌하라

@QuoVadisKorea. Reveal those 31 devils’ names and punish them according to the law. If the police tried to conceal or gloss over the case, then we should punish those personnel concerned as well. If the police do not treat the upper class's sex trafficking as a serious crime, compared to ordinary people, then they need to be penalized.

On 6 March, 2011, Twitter user Doa (@doax) has encouraged [ko] people to retweet and promote an online petition demanding further investigation into the case. The petition posted on Daum Agora, South Korea's most visited public web forum, gathered about 800 signatures in the first two days:

모두 서명하세요. 온라인 서명이 안되면 오프 서명이라도 합시다 RT @sunykwon: RT @jjicksa: 고 장자연의 한을 풀어줍시다!! 아고라에서 재수사요청 청원 서명을 받고 있습니다.! 무한 RT부탁합니다!

Everyone, please sign here. If you can't sign the online petition, then go offline. RT @sunykwon: RT @jjicksa: Let us avenge on Jang's behalf. [direct translation would read ‘Let us help her to release sorrow’] We are gathering signatures for the petition posted on Daum Agora site to urge police to re-examine the case.

Another Twitter @givenjoy tweeted [ko]:

장자연 리스트 명단을 공개를 요구하는 트위터리안의 반응을 포스팅 하였습니다.[링크된 글에 게제된 내용] 박상민(@miniwangja): 고 장자연씨에게 성접대를 받은 더러운 자들의 명단이 공개되어야합니다.31명의 그들은 사회의 구성원이 아닙니다.더러운 힘을 자신의 쾌락을 위해 사용한죄 분명하게 물어야 합니다.명단공개 릴레이 RT요청합니다.

I have gathered and posted tweeps’ responses on Jang Ja Yeon's list and [most of them] demanded the release of the list. [from the linked post] Park Sang Min (@miniwangja): Jang's sexual service list should be made public. These 31 people are not [true] members of our society. We need to demand punishment for them – for appropriating their dirty powers for the sake of their pleasure. We request you to join our relay-retweet of this message to force the publication of the list.

Twitter user @Social_Holic, after retweeting similar messages, reasoned [ko] that:

이런 인간들을 처벌 안하면 반복됨[…]

If we allow these people to walk around unpunished, they will repeat their deed.

Public Anger

What has fueled the already heightened public anger is a suspicion that the police have tried to conceal the case. When Jang's former manager Mr Yu, now the head of an entertainment agency, first presented Jang's letters to the police, they disregarded his testimony as invalid after claiming he had mental problems.

Twitter user Jay H. Lim (@Narciman) tweeted [ko] about the tendency of South Korean authorities to discredit whistleblowers:

RT @hcshin: 김용철 변호사가 이건희 비리를 폭로했을 때 삼성의 첫 반응은 “그는 정신병자다”라는 거였다./// 장자연 제보자에 대해 경찰은 “정신병 치료받는 사람”이라고 했는데 알고보니 그 정신병이란게 우울증이었다.

RT @hcshin:When lawyer Kim Young-chul revealed Lee Gun-hui's corruption cases, Samsung's first response was “he is mentally ill”. [In this case] Police referred to Jang's whistleblower [Mr Yu] as “someone under medication for his mental illnesses”. But later it was revealed that the illness he suffered was mere depression.

The full publication of Jang's list is unlikely to occur. Many netizens have predicted that full and unedited disclosure is improbable because it will induce libel suits, and any investigation will be hampered by presumed political pressure from those authority figures concerned. The process could be dragged out  for several months.

Twitter user mojito (@mojito0) retweeted [ko]:

RT @newspresso: S뉴스는 필적 감정을 마쳤다고 보도. 그런데 문서의 진위 가지고 날 샐지도 모르겠음.

RT @newspresso: The S broadcast reported that they had identified Jang's handwriting from the document. But it may take some time in verifying whether the document was actually written by Jang.

Prudent net users raised suspicions on the timing of the event. Jang's list, when it came to light two years ago, was treated lightly as bit of a showbusiness gossip.

Twitter user Yoo Won Sang(@9hiro) brought up [ko] a Korean movie, ‘Unfair Trading‘, which is about power figures using celebrity scandals to distract the public:

영화 ‘부당거래'가 생각나네요..거기선 연예인마약건을 터뜨려 무마시키면 된다고 그랬었죠[…].RT @_nu: […]2년이나 지나서 누가 왜 공개하는지 궁금치않다. 유명인 섹스 동영상이 나올 시기고, 상황이다.

It reminds me of the movie ‘Unfair Trading‘ which tells that you can put out fires [escape difficult situations] by busting an entertainer's drug abuse.[…] RT @_nu: […] Nobody cares why this case was revealed after two years after it happened. It's about time to leak celebrity sex videos.

Whether it was motivated by political interest or not, most people feel the urgent need to address the issue in order to end this and other exploitation of young women by South Korea's ruling classes.

The number one cause for suicide is untreated depression. Depression is treatable and suicide is preventable. You can get help from confidential support lines for the suicidal and those in emotional crisis. Please visit to find a suicide prevention helpline in your country.


  • This seems to be more than a problem within the entertainment industry. Repeated sexual abuse driving a young woman to suicide is the plot of the recent Korean movie “Poetry.” That young woman was a 16 year old high school student and the “devils” were six classmates. The parents all wish to hush it up.

  • MidwestMz

    The loss of any human life due to this type of treatment is, or should be one of the most strongly prosecuted crimes there is. So very unfortunately it is not. This is a crime against the person on so many levels. More importantly it is a crime against the mind as well as the body and gender. A physical harm heals, a mental harm can or will last the person’s life time, and unfortunately in this instance the life time was greatly shortened due to this abuse. No matter the ranking or placement of the person, all should be held to the same level field of standards for treatment and prosecution in matters of this nature. Why is it allowable, or acceptable for this to continue in this day and age when we think we are so ‘enlightened’? I have always wondered how persons who hold/do this type of thing have this type of a mindset to rationalize that it is okay. I am aware that environment and how/where someone grew up makes a difference, but do these individual hope this does not happen to their female relatives? So how can they continue to do it? I guess just another dump question here from another female, and no I am not blonde!

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