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CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea — South Korean police plan to charge two Toka-ri nightclub owners — who allegedly forced Philippine employees to prostitute themselves to U.S. soldiers — with human trafficking offenses.

A Dongdaemun police spokesman said last month that two Toka-ri club owners — identified only as Hwang, manager of X-Club, and Park, manager of Smackers nightclub — are likely to face human trafficking charges. The arrests have highlighted aggressive new efforts by South Korea and the U.S. military to tackle the issue from both sides.

Both club owners are in a South Korean jail waiting for a court date after March police raids led to charges they illegally detained Philippine employees, the spokesman said.

One of the Filipinas, who was allegedly forced to work as a prostitute at X-Club and asked not to be identified, said agents from a South Korean company in the Philippines recruited her as a nightclub singer.

However, soon after starting work at X-Club she and several other Filipina workers were locked inside the club by the manager and told to have sex with U.S. soldiers.

“These GIs came in around 10 or 11 p.m. There were three girls there and three GIs. The mama-san (manager) locked the door and asked the guys to go upstairs. She said they paid for us. She kept saying things like ‘be nice,’” the woman told Stars and Stripes.

“She was trying to convince us to stay with them for the whole night. I don’t know how to speak Korean. I don’t know how to get out of that place. So we each stayed with a boy. It happened again a week later. It happened (to me) four times with GIs.”

“The last time was with a Korean. The Smackers mama-san needed two girls to be with six Koreans. We thought we were just going to be drinking. We stayed with those Koreans for one hour each. A few days after that they wanted us to go to Smackers again. That is when I finally felt so bad. We all cried. I told the girls, it is going to happen every week. One day, she is going to make us do it not just every week, but every few days,” she said.

Rather than continue work as a prostitute the woman ran away, taking refuge in an American civilian’s house, who offered her free room and board.

“After I ran away, the Filipino manager (for the company that brought her to South Korea) called my mother and asked her to pay damages. He said I would be prosecuted here for violating the contract. They asked her for $2,000,” she said.

The woman contacted the Filipino Migrants Catholic Church in Seoul, which helped her complain to the South Korean police.

“I told the police my story, and that night they raided the clubs where they found evidence of prostitution,” she said.

Now the woman is waiting for her day in court. After criminal charges have been settled she plans to file a civil case against X-Club. She partly blames the U.S. Army for her treatment.

“The customers are the Army. If not for the Army, the Koreans would not be taking advantage of Filipinas. They (soldiers) shouldn’t be paying. It is human trafficking. It is wrong,” she said.

Filipinas come to South Korea for the money, she said.

Courtesy patrols by the U.S. Army in Toka-ri are largely “useless” in combating the problem, a South Korean police spokesman said.

“Regardless of what the MPs can do, it is up to the individual U.S. soldier who supports prostitution to fight this problem,” the spokesman said.

Human trafficking is a problem all over South Korea, not just near U.S. military bases, he said.

“But U.S. soldiers are the target customers in areas such as Itaewon and Tongduchoen. Clubs like Smackers do not allow Korean patrons,” the spokesman said.

Human trafficking is a problem all over the world, including countries where foreign sex workers come from, he added.

2nd ID soldiers say there’s been a crackdown on prostitution in Tongduchoen and Toka-ri in recent months. On one occasion, the courtesy patrol asked club workers to show their passports, resulting in a “riot” by club owners, several soldiers claimed.

In a statement, 2nd ID public affairs officers said accounts of the so-called riot in Tongduchoen were exaggerated.

“Several people did cause minor damage to the window and door of the small office used in Tongduchoen by the division courtesy patrols and community relations personnel. Immediately the next day, city officials and the Korean Special Tourist Association apologized and repaired the building,” the statement said.

“The division continues to investigate and enforce Army regulations, (Department of Defense) policy and Korean laws regarding prostitution.

“Such indiscipline violates the division’s focus on insuring dignity and respect for both the soldiers of the division and the citizens in our surrounding communities. This illegal activity is in no way condoned or ignored. It violates the law and is contrary to Army values,” the statement said.

The Army is attacking the problem on a number of fronts, including educating soldiers about the law, sending out courtesy patrols and liaising with club owners to make sure they’re not breaking the law, the statement said.

“Violations are brought to the attention of the Area I Armed Forces Disciplinary Board for investigation and action. Possible actions include warnings to clubs suspected of prohibited activities or outright declaration of the club as off limits,” the statement said.

Currently there are 13 clubs off limits in Area I, the statement said.

“Reports from all sources regarding prostitution are followed up aggressively. Recent information about suspected prostitution in Toka-ri resulted in immediate investigation. Six clubs were suspected of violating laws prohibiting prostitution. They were immediately placed off limits and the Disciplinary Board will consider all evidence to decide the final status of these clubs,” the statement said.

Father Glen Jaron, from the Filipino Migrants Catholic Church in Seoul, met 2nd ID officials at Camp Red Cloud last month to talk about the problem.

Jaron said he’s helped more than 100 Filipinas escape the South Korean sex industry since 1998. The problem is as bad today as it was then, he said.

“When there is a crackdown they slow down, but then a few months later they return to the same work again,” he said.

The Catholic Church reports incidents to the South Korean police and informs club workers of their rights and how to approach the police and other agencies for help.

“We know most of the brothels, and we deal with them through the police and amicable settlements,” he said.

After women leave the clubs they don’t have the right to work at other jobs in South Korea because they only have entertainers’ visas, he said.

“We get their money and their belongings. After that we tell them to go home. Often they want to stay and work, normally in Korean factories illegally,” Glen said.

Sally Hall, director of the Camp Casey United Service Organizations, is a Filipina who has worked on bases in South Korea since the early 1990s. Filipina prostitution involving U.S. soldiers in South Korea has its roots in the culture that surrounded U.S. bases in the Philippines, she said.

Hall lived in the northern Philippines, far from Subic Bay Naval Base and Clark Air Base, but in her relationships with other Filipinas in South Korea has taught her a bit about the culture that surrounded those facilities.

Even after the bases left the Philippines, she said, the culture was still there.

“I started hearing about Filipina women serving in clubs at Camp Humphreys,” three years after the bases had left the Philippines and Filipina bar workers started arriving in Area I at the same time, she said.

“That was the year South Korean businessmen started recruiting women from the Philippines and Russia.

“These women saw an opportunity. They make a lot more money than they do in the Philippines,” she said.

She said many expect to meet and marry a U.S. soldier.

“Now (it is expected that) anyone coming to Korea should come and work at Casey and maybe in two or three months can marry a soldier,” she said.

Hall does not approve of such marriages.

“Someone is a superman who rescues you, and you think you love him because he rescues you. I think they have to learn more before getting married,” she said.

In some cases a soldier will marry a club worker, then go back to the U.S., and eventually, send her a divorce petition. There have been cases of Filipinas abandoned by U.S. soldiers who have fathered children by them.

The Army supports the women by trying to contact the soldiers involved but in some cases paternity can be difficult to establish, she said.

The South Korean Police spokesman said local communities and U.S. soldiers share responsibility with club owners for human trafficking.

“It is difficult because there is a community effort to protect the club owners. If a girl runs away from a club, the locals will catch her and bring her back to the bar,” the spokesman said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.
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