Yeonmi Park on Telling the Victim’s Truth: Advocating for North Korea’s Refugees

In his November 15, 2015 article, “Yeonmi Park’s North Korean Defector Story”, Todd Krainin introduces us to Yeonmi Park and gives us a glimpse of her story as she tells it in her book In Order To Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom. Krainin also tells us about the plot to discredit her story, to create doubt about her claims, and diminish her credibility both as a writer and as a victim.

Yeonmi’s Story

In 2007, when Yeonmi Park was only 13 years old, she and her family fled North Korea looking for a freedom that, she says, they did not fully understand. Her father died from cancer shortly after escaping from North Korea. She and her mother endured through starvation. Yeonmi persevered through being raped and abused as they traveled across China, the Gobi Desert, and the Mongolian border before finally reaching South Korea. Her story and her book shine the spotlight on political persecutions and human rights abuses on not only in North Korea but in other parts of the world.

Casting Doubt

Yeonmi Park has found her share of critics both in and outside of North Korea. The government in Pyongyang has produced what some might call a propaganda video discrediting her story and accusing her family of working undercover for the United States. Some critics demonize her for the celebrity aspect of her book. While others call into question the accuracy of her claims, citing discrepancies in Yeonmi’s stories of being raped and abused. Yeonmi states that any discrepancies are unintentional and due mainly to limited English language skills and shame, but not intended to sensationalize or deceive.

According to Krainin, because North Korea is one of the most secretive nations in the world, it is difficult to verify the truth and credibility of many of these stories. However, all of these stories must be told. Thousands of North Korean refugees and from other areas depend on stories like Yeonmi Park’s to continue to bring awareness and keep the rest of the world on the path of seeking the truth.