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USFK general tells troops to stay away from unscrupulous businesses

SEOUL — The commander of U.S. Forces Korea issued a memo Wednesday reminding American servicemembers here not to patronize establishments they suspect promote prostitution and human trafficking.

Gen. James Thurman, in a directive posted on USFK’s Facebook page, wrote, “It is the absolute responsibility of all USFK members to be vigilant for signs of human trafficking.

“USFK personnel will not facilitate in any way prostitution and human trafficking,” Thurman wrote. “It is cruel and demeaning, is linked to organized crime, undermines the USFK mission and is incompatible with our military core values.”

In the policy memo, Thurman referred to an establishment “in the Pyeongtaek area” that was recently put off-limits to servicemembers after Korean police uncovered evidence of prostitution and human trafficking.

“This establishment was put off-limits until there is confidence that prostitution and human trafficking are no longer occurring,” he said.

In July, Korean media reports said three people were charged with bringing a Philippine woman to South Korea on an entertainer’s visa, promising to employ her as a singer. However, after she arrived, her passport was taken and she was put to work as a hostess at a Pyeongtaek “juicy bar,” where she was forced to prostitute herself as part of her job, reports said.

The suspects allegedly brought more than two dozen other Filipinas into the country under similar circumstances and the investigation is continuing, the report said.

The goal of Thurman’s memo — which is being called an update to USFK policy — “is to inform every USFK member of recent activities regarding the crimes of prostitution and human trafficking, and offenders are subject to severe punishment by (South Korean) and U.S. authorities,” USFK said in a statement.

“USFK’s policy of zero tolerance for prostitution and human trafficking activity remains unchanged,” the statement said. “This is an update on recent activity … and also serves as a reminder for USFK servicemembers.”

Juicy bars cluster by the dozens outside some U.S. military installations in South Korea. They primarily employ Philippine women as hostesses, whose job is to flirt with servicemembers, trying to get them to buy the women expensive juice drinks in exchange for their continued company and conversation.

While flirting is as far as things go at some of the bars, others are notorious for forcing their “juicy girls” to prostitute themselves when they fall short of drink-sale quotas.

For years, USFK has taken a stance of reluctant acceptance of the juicy bars outside its bases – black-listing those caught in the act of promoting prostitution and stating, “Buying overpriced drinks in a juicy bar supports the human trafficking industry, a form of modern-day slavery;” but at the same time allowing servicemembers to continue to patronize those juicy bars not directly linked to human trafficking.

The issue reached a boiling point in June in and around Osan Air Base, when the base leadership placed off-limits a half-dozen juicy bars linked to prostitution and human trafficking in the adjacent Songtan Entertainment District.

Base officials put the entire district off-limits for long stretches of each day after the juicy bar owners started staging daily protests. The weeks-long battle of wills ended when the black-listed juicy bars agreed to no longer employ Filipinas as hostesses in exchange for the lifting of their off-limits status.

Thurman’s memo said, “The United States government considers trafficking in persons to include all criminal conduct involved in forced labor and sex trafficking, essentially any conduct involved in reducing or holding someone in compelled service.”

Reporter Armando Limon Jr. contributed to this report.

rabiroff.jon@stripes.com

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