- North Korea’s cheer squad has captured the imaginations of thousands of spectators at the Winter Olympics.
- But a defector from Kim Jong Un’s regime told Bloomberg there’s a dark side.
- Lee So-yeon, a former military musician, says the women are made to perform sex work for their political masters.
- Other accounts have also suggested that the women live in an atmosphere of coercion and control.
Members of North Korea’s cheerleading squad are being forced to perform sex work for their political masters as part of their trip to the Winter Olympics, according to a soldier who defected from the country.
Lee So-yeon, a military musician who fled the country in 2008, said members of the cheer squad, which has captured the imagination of many spectators, are effectively sex slaves when they’re off camera.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Lee said “it might seem like a fancy show on the outside” but “they also have to go to parties and provide sexual services.”
She added: “They go to the central Politburo party’s events, and have to sleep with the people there, even if they don’t want it. Those sorts of human-rights infringements take place, where women have to follow what they are told to do with their bodies.”
She appeared to be referring to how the women are treated in North Korea rather than during the Olympics themselves.
The claims from Lee, who now helps rehabilitate fellow defectors who come to South Korea, are more extreme than other accounts of how the women are treated, but they align generally with accounts of coercion and control.
Cheerleaders go through an excruciating vetting process, are unpaid, and are guarded 24 hours a day. And they can face prison time for any missteps.
Athletes are not exempt either. North Korea’s Olympians are followed into the bathroom and have round-the-clock security guards who will tackle them if they try to run away.
Athletes are slaves
Kim Hyung-soo, a 54-year-old father of a North Korean former skier, also described the women to Bloomberg as “slaves,” though he didn’t mention anything sexual. Hyung-soo told Bloomberg that “athletes are Kim Jong-Un’s sports slaves.”
“Even the coaches are slaves to Kim Jong Un and to the North Korean regime,” he said, adding: “The athletes and the cheerleaders, too. They are all Kim Jong Un and North Korea’s slaves.”
The 2018 Winter Olympics end on Sunday.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.