SEOUL — Two years after the U.S. State Department cited Korean “juicy bars” for suspected human trafficking, U.S. Forces Korea is promoting a video acknowledging that the bars routinely patronized by thousands of American soldiers encourage the sexual exploitation of the young hostesses who work there.
A public service video recently posted on the YouTube page of USFK’s Public Affairs Office states unequivocally that “buying overpriced drinks in a juicy bar supports the human trafficking industry, a form of modern-day slavery.”
Yet American commanders continue to allow U.S. servicemembers to patronize the bars as long as the establishments have not been caught directly engaging in prostitution or human trafficking.
USFK commander Gen. James D. Thurman declined a request to explain whether commanders are sending American soldiers a mixed message regarding the juicy bars, which are found clustered in seedy entertainment districts near some of the U.S. military’s larger bases in Korea.
The bars are primarily staffed by Philippine women who are imported to flirt with servicemembers and encourage them to buy expensive juice drinks — usually about $10 each — in exchange for more time to talk and flirt.
A 2009 Stars and Stripes investigation found that “juicy girls” who fall short of juice-sale quotas are sometimes forced by club owners to prostitute themselves to make up the revenue difference — a practice known as “bar fining.”
In addition, some of the juicy girls arrange to meet customers outside of work, where they strike sex-for-cash deals or pose as girlfriends who then hit the men up for money, purportedly to send home or pay off debts.
Since that report, the Philippine government has tried to tighten its emigration regulations in hopes of reducing the numbers of women brought into South Korea for the primary purpose of flirting with and/or prostituting themselves to American servicemembers.
The U.S. State Department, in its 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report, referenced the plight of women who work at the juicy bars near U.S. military facilities as one of its ongoing human trafficking concerns in South Korea.
The recently-posted USFK public service announcement — which aired earlier this year on AFN — puts juicy bars under a much harsher spotlight.
“Right now, young women are being lured to Korea thinking they will become singers and dancers,” the narrator says. “Instead, they will be sexually exploited in order to support their families.”
The spot ends with the words “Stop human trafficking” on the screen, along with the website address for the Defense Department’s “Combating trafficking in persons” page.
Yet USFK officials have declined to put all juicy bars off-limits.
In 2010, then-USFK commander Gen. Walter Sharp said, “The bottom line is that juicy bars … have women that are there to talk to soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines. You can’t presume that things go beyond that, which is what you would have to do if you want to put them (all) off-limits.”
Instead, USFK officials maintain they are doing all they can to make sure that juicy bars frequented by U.S. servicemembers are operating legally.
“(USFK) opposes prostitution, forced labor and any activities that contribute to trafficking in persons,” USFK officials said in a statement provided in response to queries from Stars and Stripes.
“According to (USFK) policy, all personnel are required to respect Korean laws or risk apprehension, trial and confinement.”
USFK said it enforces a zero-tolerance policy toward human trafficking by placing juicy bars caught tolerating or promoting prostitution off-limits, as well as by joining South Korean authorities on “town patrols” in the areas around U.S. bases and maintaining a hotline.
“We may determine that an establishment is engaging in human trafficking by observing a number of factors, including a high turnover of young workers, an inordinate amount of private security or the known solicitation of prostitution,” the statement said.
Yi Hun-hui, president of the Korea Foreigner Tourist Facility Association, which represents about 200 base-area juicy bars, said he was not happy about the video posted on the USFK website.
“Their logic goes over my head,” Yi said. “Everybody is equal before the law.”
He contended there is nothing wrong with a U.S. servicemember spending as much as $100 in a night to drink and talk to a young woman in a public place like a juicy bar.