Female members of work units mobilized at the construction sites in Samjiyon, Ryanggang Province, have been victim to severe instances of sexual assault, Daily NK has learned.  

“A significant number of female workers at the Samjiyon construction site have been sexually assaulted,” said a source to Daily NK on Tuesday. “The perpetrators are usually men in positions of power.”

“Officials will say something like, ‘I’m saying this because you resemble my niece, but come over because I want to share some food with just you to lure the females over, and then sexually assault them in their rooms,” continued the source. “Even the females who initially resisted will lose their will to fight and give up resisting after being sexually assaulted multiple times.” 


In effect, these women, isolated and in menial surroundings, have fallen prey to sexual crimes committed by those in positions of power, sources said. Officials will provide their female victims with exemptions from work, extra food rations and other comforts while sexually violating them, explained sources.

“Some of the women who return home after being sexually violated suffer from mental issues,” continued the source. “You can imagine the feelings of the parents who have to witness their daughters in this state.” 

Samjiyon construction site
A scene from North Korea’s modernization initiative in Samjiyon, Ryanggang Province. / Image: Rodong Sinmun

Amid all this, some females will voluntarily offer sex so as to possibly be guaranteed certain comforts, said sources.

“Some of them, particularly those who are young, have to sleep in tent-like structures and starve in the cold while working. They cannot bear it,” said a source. “In such cases they’ll approach an official with some weight in Samjiyon and offer their bodies in exchange for food or reassignment to a position where the work is a bit easier.”

One of the sources expressed sympathy with the women, saying “they were placed in an impossible situation. It is tragic that some women must make those choices to simply survive.”


Public awareness and criticism of sexual assault in North Korea remains low, sources said. Not only is there a general tendency to downplay sexual assault itself, but North Koreans tend to view the female victims of the assault in an unfavorable light.

“Most North Koreans assume that women who were in the work units have been sexually assaulted,” said a source. “There are a significant number of people who say that these women make them uncomfortable.”

Work units, also called “storm trooper units” in North Korea’s military terminology-laced language, typically work on key national construction projects. Members of these units receive inadequate compensation for the work they do, and are often put to work on dangerous projects without proper equipment. 

*Translated by Violet Kim and edited by Oliver Osuna 

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

Mun Dong Hui is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.