2012-02-27 17:45:20

Fight to End Trafficking Near US Bases in Korea

PYEONGTAEK, Gyeonggi Province ― When Klarys (an alias), a 27-year-old from the Philippines, applied to come to Korea on an entertainment visa, she envisioned herself doing what she always wanted ― singing onstage.

But she says the E-6 visa was taken by her Korean promoter upon arrival and that the vision rapidly began to slip away. And very quickly, she says, so did control over her life.

The club she was taken to outside a U.S. military installation had little to do with music. Rather, she said it was a gateway to a seedy industry of entertaining soldiers ― a world where activists claim sex trafficking is not uncommon.

“For me, it was an opportunity to go abroad,” Klarys told The Korea Times. “But I got here and I was dancing on a pole. We were forced to go out (and have sex with) with whoever. You can’t say no.”

Klarys, who now lives in a shelter for sex trafficking victims in this city south of Seoul, is among a number of Filipina women filing lawsuits against their former promoters and bar owners, who they say maintain a system of deception and intimidation that leads to prostitution.

The amount of prostitution ― forced or otherwise ― at such locales is a major point of debate, with some law enforcement officials insisting the activities hardly exist anymore. Still, activists maintain that the justice system is sweeping the issue under the rug as part of “longstanding patronage of prostitution for the U.S. military.”

Addressing the problem, they say, would not only help alleviate trafficking, but represent an important step for the nation if it wants to become more hospitable to migrant women.

Prostitution ― widespread in Korea ― has long been an issue at “camptowns” outside bases such as Osan Airbase and Camp Humphreys in Songtan and Pyeongtaek, and Camp Casey in Dongducheon as a remnant of the 1950-53 Korean War.

In the decades following the war, scholars and former Korean prostitutes say the Korean government encouraged the activities as a source of hard currency and a safeguard against the U.S. leaving the country.

But with the nation’s economic rise, the jobs have largely been outsourced to foreign women, now mostly Filipinas, said You Young-nim, director of My Sister’s Place, a group that offers them counseling.

She estimated that thousands of them now work in “juicy bars” outside the bases, saying soldiers ― despite the military’s “zero-tolerance policy” toward prostitution ― buy glasses of juice in order to spend time, flirt and dance with the women. Those women who fail to meet a quota for juice sales are often subject to “bar fines,” meaning they are told to sell their body to account for the shortfall, she said.

“These women can’t reach out to programs because of their agencies, who maintain careful control over them,” she said.

In 2003, Seoul halted its issuance of a dancer’s visa ― granted to Russians and others ― as it became a thorny diplomatic issue amid international complaints that those who were brought here with the visa were being exploited for prostitution. The move raises questions over why the E-6 visa is still being issued for the so-called “juicy girls,” according to Ms. You.

Read the full story at The Korea Times.

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