U.S. Military in Korea: Prostitution and Human Trafficking Reemerge in the Media

Submitted by Terry Moore, Lt Col, USAF (Ret)
Connecting women with military service to peers, resources & services

It seems like we have to say out loud: that condoning prostitution and human trafficking does universally impact individuals' attitudes about fellow human beings, particularly women and children, who are the most vulnerable targets of these criminal activities.

Military personnel's historical involvement with prostitution, and incidentally human trafficking, is now reentering the news media in the context of our military's systemic sexual assault epidemic.  It is palpably relevant.  They are directly connected issues.  See this 2012 30-second U.S. Forces Korea Public Affairs video.

I was in Korea for a one-year remote tour of duty and observed first hand the around-the-clock horrific, surreal behavior (sex, drugs and alcohol) in what is notoriously called "juicy bars."  On my first trip off base, I thought I had entered a time warp, only to find out "its always been that way" and apparently, it is still that way.  I later learned that military men goad each other into making their first "soju (a Korean white lightning--distilled rice liquor) experience and all that comes with it.  It is one of the saddest social commentaries about our military that I can personally and professionally attest to.  It is tolerated, ignored and condoned in deed (not in word--regulations, policies and now videos) by our military establishment.  In fact, we use our own military law enforcement in the host nation's towns (called "Town Patrol") to "protect" our military men from "endangering themselves" in this criminal environment. In other words, we yank them back on base to sober up when they cannot function coherently and independently, they become an obvious and intolerable public embarrassment, bar brawls ensue and/or the Korean gangs decide to engage them.  I remind myself that this behavior is an every-day behavior in these locations, which cannot be excused or linked to a wartime or combat stress environment.  

In a recent article, the Service Women's Action Network Executive Director, Anu Bhagwati, noted:
"It's also a culture that has been conducive to sexism and the degradation of women....At bases overseas, there's commercial exploitation of women thriving around them, women being trafficked....You can't expect to treat women as one of your own when, in same breath, you as a young soldier are being encouraged to exploit women on the outside of that base."

It's not new news, but it is directly related to why we have a sexual harassment and assault problem in our military.  Just breeze through these links.  There are countless books written on this subject.  It's all about what military personnel tell each other is okay by tolerating, ignoring and condoning whatever goes on.  It's also about what they expect of each other--how little or how much. Even more insulting, is what some say "our boys are incapable of controlling," "boys will be boys," and "it is what it is."  These are over-simplified, archaic, and medieval myths.

Just one walk with a cell phone camcorder around the towns outside of each military base, later shared with national media, would assault the sensibilities of even the most seasoned national news watchers.  And can you imagine if you were the parent who saw your son in the nationally broadcasted clip?  And what would DOD say?  They would say they do not condone this behavior, which are only words stating they have it covered in words.  It's not consistently discouraged in deed...in legal actions adjudicating illegal prostitution, human trafficking and unbecoming conduct activities.

After a single YouTube search, no one would have to make a special documentary trip to Korea. 
Chicago Girls
U.S. Soldiers In Korea - What Is Love

We have a very, very, very long way to go before our military can say they have a "handle" on inappropriate and, in some cases, criminal sexual activities.  More of the same breeds more of the same, which we all know isn't working.

June 18, 2013; Updated January 2018