CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea — A bill to create a director of global anti-human trafficking policies in the Department of Defense was introduced Thursday in an effort to better monitor the way the military deals with South Korean “juicy bars” that cater to American troops and have often been linked to prostitution.
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., drafted the bill to create the assistant secretary-level position. The office would “investigate links between trafficking in persons and ... members of the Armed Forces and contractors of the department,” according to a copy of the bill Smith’s staff e-mailed to Stars and Stripes.
Smith said last month he intended to file the bill in response to the newspaper’s reports that prostitution and human trafficking continue to be problems at the juicy bars that cluster by the dozens outside U.S. military bases in South Korea.
Smith could not immediately be reached for comment Friday. The bill has been assigned to the House Armed Service Committee and could be included in the fiscal 2011 defense authorization bill, set to be marked up in mid-May, although no such plans have been announced yet.
Last month, he told Stars and Stripes that “the fact that juicy bars appear to be gaming the system in Korea is a sign that the monitoring is weak. Juicy bars should be on their own watch list for the military, if not actually off-limits.”
Smith is co-chairman of the U.S. Congressional Caucus on Human Trafficking, and the author of three landmark anti-trafficking laws already on the books. Among other steps, his new bill would require the assistant secretary for anti-trafficking policies to:
- Ensure all DOD commitments related to human trafficking are implemented.
- Monitor cases in which servicemembers, DOD employees or contractors are accused of promoting or facilitating trafficking to ensure they are properly handled.
- Ensure that “trafficking in persons is included as an intelligence requirement in peace-keeping missions that track organized crime.”
- Consult regularly with academic and faith-based, multilateral and nongovernmental organizations to get their perspectives on how the DOD is doing in combating trafficking.
In recent years, Philippine women have been brought to South Korea by promoters almost exclusively to work as hostesses in bars. They are issued entertainer visas, with many women under the belief they were going to be nightclub singers.
However, when they arrive they find out their primary job is to flirt with U.S. servicemembers and get the men to buy them expensive juice drinks for the women’s continued company and conversation.
Former “juicy girls” told Stars and Stripes that Filipinas who fall short of juice-sale quotas are sometimes forced by bar managers and owners to prostitute themselves to make up the difference — a practice known as “bar-fining.”
U.S. commanders in South Korea frequently cite that when putting bars off-limits. Bars can get taken off that list if owners show commanders they have stopped the practice, but it’s not uncommon for the same bar to return to the off-limits list after bar-fining is found to have occurred again.
Nearly 60 establishments are currently off-limits to servicemembers in South Korea, many of them among the estimated 200 juicy bars in the country.
Juicy girls also sometimes strike side deals and prostitute themselves directly to servicemembers in their off-hours, or act as girlfriends and eventually hit the men up for money they say they need for their families or to pay off debts to their bar owners.
The Philippine government recently stopped approving promoter contracts for its women to work in establishments near U.S. bases because of the prostitution problems. Officials also said they found it degrading to have Filipinas imported to kiss, touch and flirt with troops.
However, they said, unscrupulous promoters are still finding ways to get their women jobs in the juicy bars.
Attempts to reach U.S. Forces Korea officials Friday for comment on Smith’s bill were unsuccessful.
However, USFK officials have repeatedly said that the command is doing everything possible to police and discourage prostitution and human trafficking at juicy bars. They say they won’t issue a ban on all juicy bars because it would be unfair to bars not involved in prostitution.
“You can’t presume that things go beyond [talking with servicemembers], which is what you would have to do to put them [all] off-limits,” USFK commander Gen. Walter Sharp said in March.