WHEN KIM Jong-un became the first North Korean leader to meet with a sitting US President, many hoped it would signal a break from the nation's bleak past.
Yet just three years before meeting Donald Trump in 2018, he'd resurrected one of his regime's darkest traditions – the twisted "Pleasure Squad" of secret sex entertainers first created by his grandfather.
Kim's whereabouts are currently unknown, triggering rumours about the brutal dictator's health after he disappeared from public life three weeks ago.
Some are even suggesting that he's died — but foreign intelligence services think he's actually sheltering from the coronavirus pandemic in a secure luxury compound.
And it's within the walls of his ultra-protected palaces that his Pleasure Squad provide entertainment for high-ranking North Korean officials.
The 2,000-strong harem is said to be made to sing and dance for the nation's elite — but also take part in bizarre sexual games and orgies.
It's made even more disturbing by the fact that some members of the Pleasure Squad are said to have been as young as 13, taken directly out of school into sex work.
Defectors from North Korea even say the girls have to undergo invasive medical examinations to prove they're virgins before they can join.
Here's the disturbing story of how the Pleasure Squad was founded — and was brought back on the orders of Kim Jong-un.
Absorbing virgins' 'life force'
The Pleasure Squad or Kippumjo began during the reign of North Korea's founder, Kim Il-sung, who is still considered the country's Eternal President, despite dying in 1994.
In the late 1970s, at the height of his power, he sent out his officials to scour the nation for its most attractive young women and girls to act as singers and dancers.
Some of them also began working as maids, but the most sexually attractive were ordered to become "comfort women" for powerful officials.
Many were aged around 13 and 14, and were sometimes even recommended for the sick service by their schools.
Kim Il-sung targeted virgins specifically because he believed having sex with them allowed him to absorb a girl's "ki" or life-force.
Authorities would tell the girls' parents their daughters were being taken on an important mission to serve Kim Il-sung, and they had no say in the matter.
The girls would then be kept in party leaders' mansions and were expected to do whatever they were told.
Officers in the North Korean military often took the women as wives after they were "retired" from their sexual duties in their 20s.
Passed down generations
Once they're taken into the Pleasure Squad, girls are then sorted into different units.
Some are expected to sing and dance, while others primarily give massages and are sometimes even sent overseas for their training.
But a third strand of the Pleasure Squad, the Manjokjo, are explicitly tasked with providing sexual services.
After Kim Il-sung's death, his son, Kim Jong-il, maintained the Pleasure Squad and had a string of mistresses to boot.
And other members of the Kim dynasty were said to exploit the girls too.
Kenji Fujimoto, a sushi chef who worked for the Kims between 1989 and 2001, claimed that Kim Jong-il's brother, Jang Song Thaek, would "audition" girls for the dictator during his reign.
“If they were singers, they would sing right there," Fujimoto told NK News.
"There would be separate auditions for dancers. The panel would ask them to raise their legs and all that."
The cook said in order to get the auditions, girls would have to have sex with Jang Song Thaek first.
He was ultimately executed by firing squad on the orders of his nephew, Kim Jong-un, because he was a perceived threat to the despot's authority.
Jang Song Thaek was blown to pieces by anti-aircraft machine guns before his remains were incinerated by flamethrowers.
Sex parties and hair shaving
Only a few details of the Pleasure Squad's activities has been made known to anyone outside North Korea's cloistered communist regime.
In 2010, a woman known as Mi Hyang defected to South Korea, claiming to have been in Kim Il-sung's Pleasure Squad for two years.
She said she was recruited aged 15 while in school.
"They inspected all the female students and put aside some of them, including me, and made a detailed record of my family history and school record," she wrote on a blog.
"I was asked whether I ever slept with a boy. I felt so ashamed to hear such a question."
Lee Il-nam, Kim Il-sung's nephew, mentioned the Pleasure Squad in a memoir he published while living in exile before being murdered in 1997.
Lee painted a picture of wild parties at Kim's resident in Pyongyang which would last until the early hours of the morning focusing on booze and sex.
“The routine at the parties included eating, drinking and dancing, but usually ended with erotic games,” Lee wrote.
“A favourite was a game in which the losers had to take off clothes one by one. It was enforced, regardless of men or women. "If they got heavily drunk, the also played a hair-shaving game.
"If men lost, part of their head hair was shaved, as if it was mown. For women, their pubic hair was shaved.”
He added that some parties were solely devoted to sex when Kim was in a "particularly good mood".
Wrangling 'tall and beautiful' women
The Pleasure Squad that was started in the 1970s disbanded when Kim Jong-il died in 2011 and his son Kim Jong-un came to power.
That's thought to be because Kim Jong-un was said to trust no one in his father's administration — including the women and girls of the Pleasure Squad.
"The women who entertained his father knew many secrets and they have now been ordered to promise not to reveal any information before being sent back to their hometowns", said Professor Toshimitsu Shigemura, a North Korea expert at Tokyo's Waseda University, The Telegraph reports.
Each of the women was thought to have been given pay-offs of around $4,000, which is a staggeringly large amount of cash in poverty-riddled North Korea.
They were also given electrical appliances to buy their discretion.
For four years, the Pleasure Squad was completely discontinued.
But then in 2015, reports emerged in South Korea that Kim Jong-un was on the hunt to recruit new girls and women for a Pleasure Squad entirely of his own.
The tyrant was said to have "developed a taste" for the "pliable maidens" while being treated for gout in 2014, Chosun Ilbo reports.
A source told the South Korean paper that the "tall and beautiful" new recruits were made to undergo security training at the Koryo Hotel in Pyongyang – before being put to work like the hundreds before them.
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