SEOUL — A leading advocate in the fight against human trafficking said he hopes a reference to juicy bars in the U.S. State Department’s newly released annual Trafficking in Persons Report will prompt the U.S. military and South Korean officials to step up efforts to rid the base-area establishments of prostitution and other problems.
“The report has pointed out where the trafficking victims can be found — near the military base — and now presses South Korea to step up the law enforcement,” U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., wrote in an e-mail exchange with Stars and Stripes.
“But, even more importantly, the U.S. military has a responsibility and a role to play in enforcing the zero tolerance policy,” he continued. “If it is our servicemen who are creating the demand, we have to ensure that they stop exploiting the women.”
Smith, co-chairman of the U.S. Congressional Caucus on Human Trafficking, has authored three landmark anti-trafficking laws. He has a bill now in the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel that would, he said, “ensure that the Department of Defense has an assistant secretary level director for anti-trafficking policy who would oversee a clear and decisive response.”
The State Department’s 10th annual review, released this week, covered how well 177 countries deal with trafficking for slave labor or sexual exploitation, ranking them in three tiers. South Korea was listed as one of 28 Tier-1 countries, those deemed best in compliance in the fight against trafficking.
However, the report listed a number of ongoing concerns regarding South Korea. Among them: “Some foreign women … who enter the country on entertainment visas, including those recruited to be singers and bar workers near U.S. military facilities, were trafficked for forced prostitution.”
The report made no specific recommendations for the U.S. military, but calls on South Korea to “significantly increase efforts to investigate, prosecute and convict trafficking offenders.”
Smith, however, said the report’s mention of sex trafficking around bases in the second paragraph of the South Korea summation “is unlikely to be missed as a problem that must be solved.”
“The report … has proven to be an effective diplomatic tool,” he said. “I hope it will spur both South Korea and the U.S. military to effective action on behalf of the trafficked women and girls.”
U.S. Forces Korea spokesman David Oten said no one in the command would be made available to comment on the report.
In several Stars and Stripes reports on South Korea’s juicy bars since last fall, USFK officials, including commander Gen. Walter Sharp, have said they are doing everything possible to police and discourage prostitution and human trafficking at the bars. But they have refused to issue an off-limits ban on all juicy bars, saying that would be unfair to those establishments that operate cleanly.
Of an estimated 200 juicy bars that operate outside the gates of military bases, about 50 are listed as off-limits to servicemembers.
The Stars and Stripes reports showed that prostitution continues to be a problem at juicy bars.
Women, primarily from the Philippines, are brought into the country — some with the mistaken impression they are going to be nightclub singers — with the primary job of flirting with servicemembers and getting them to buy the women expensive juice drinks in exchange for their continued company and conversation.
Former juicy girls told the newspaper that Filipinas who fall short of juice-sale quotas are sometimes forced by their employers to prostitute themselves to customers to make up the difference — a practice known as “bar-fining.”
Upset about not only the prostitution — but the kissing, touching and flirting the women were recruited to do — the Philippine government recently stopped approving contracts that promoters use to bring Filipinas to South Korea to work in establishments near U.S. military bases.
However, Filipinas already working in South Korea were not affected, and officials said unscrupulous promoters are still finding ways to find them work in base-area juicy bars.