USFK committed to zero tolerance on prostitution crimes, LaPorte warns
November 8, 2004
(Second of two parts. Click here for Part One of the interview with Gen. LaPorte.)
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Nearly 400 U.S. servicemembers in South Korea have been punished this year for offenses related to prostitution, and military commanders promise continued efforts to end any activity associated with the sex trade or human trafficking, the top U.S. officer in South Korea said.
“Zero tolerance means exactly that. We’re not going to tolerate behavior which is dehumanizing, demoralizing and illegal. That’s always been the military’s intent,” U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Leon J. LaPorte said in an interview last week with Stars and Stripes.
“This whole human trafficking issue is a terribly tragic series of events that take tremendous advantage of children and women primarily. … Military values are not congruent with any type of interaction with that kind of activity.”
Of the 400 instances recorded between January and September of this year, LaPorte said, most were dealt with through an Article 15, a non-judicial punishment handed down by a unit commander. The punishments, some of which were handed down through courts-martial, were for soliciting prostitutes, breaking curfew or going to an off-limits establishment or area — the latter two being enforcement tools used by USFK to crack down on participation in the sex trade.
“It’s not a problem solely near the bases. We have placed over 800 enterprises off-limits. And some areas, entire zones have been put off limits to USFK personnel because, primarily, it’s an area known for prostitution,” LaPorte said.
“We have Courtesy Patrol and Korean National Police who patrol it, and you never see USFK personnel in these areas, because they realize it.”
“Clearly it is illegal in the Republic of Korea, clearly [it] is against our Uniform Code of Military Justice,” LaPorte said of the sex trade. “It is clearly incongruent with our values as an institution. And it is clearly incongruent with our values as a nation. We’re a nation that prides itself on human rights and treating people with individual dignity and respect, regardless of gender, race, creed or origin.”
LaPorte also dismissed the notion that the military has lately increased its focus on the issue.
“I wouldn’t say that it’s something newly emphasized because it has always been the position of the U.S. military — clearly it’s been the position of this command — that we don’t support this kind of activity,” he said.
“I think worldwide, you’re seeing more emphasis put on human trafficking, because people now have greater visibility on the fact that it’s the result of international crime syndicates taking human bondage and moving these individuals all around the world and taking advantage of them. And I think the peoples in the civilized world are starting to realize exactly that [and] are asking their governments to stop it.”
LaPorte pointed to recent efforts by South Korea to crack down on the sex trade, which the government has estimated brings in $20 billion a year. Over the past month, Korean police have conducted intense crackdowns on red-light districts.
Ok Jung-hoon, an officer with the Korean National Police’s anti-prostitution team, said nearly 5,000 people had been arrested since enforcement of tougher sex trade laws began last month.
A new report about the KNP efforts was to be released early this week, he said. But according to preliminary figures, the highest number of arrests have come at nightclubs serving as prostitution fronts or brothels; so-called “tea rooms” where sex is bought and sold; massage parlors; private homes; and barber shops, which are notorious in South Korea for providing more than a haircut.
Ok said a number of foreigners had been arrested in the crackdown, but he could not provide specific numbers or nationalities.
Other USFK officials said their efforts included more than public service announcements and warnings.
“There is a lot of behind the scenes stuff going on,” USFK Command Sgt. Major Troy Welch said Friday on his monthly radio program. “There is an increase of courtesy patrols in all entertainment districts. We’re attacking it that way.”
Courtesy patrols and military police are being trained to recognize the signs of human trafficking and are aggressively searching it out in areas where servicemembers might go, Welch said.
“We don’t have a lot of servicemembers paying for prostitutes, but we don’t want them exposed to it,” Welch said.
LaPorte said he has met with South Korean officials — including the minister of justice and the head of the KNP — to discuss the issue of human trafficking. He requested help from the South Koreans, he said, and offered whatever support USFK could offer.
LaPorte also has observed the issue by joining military patrols or Korean police in the off-limits areas. Those trips, he said, have shown “that the policies we’ve put into effect are necessary. There are areas in various cities that clearly are areas of concern to commands relative to prostitution and human trafficking. There are a lot of great establishments that have no connection whatsoever with human trafficking or prostitution, and we’re very happy that our servicemembers have those available.”
“We have very strong command policies relative to this issue,” LaPorte said. “All of the commanders understand it and provide a lot of training and education to our young servicemembers relative to human trafficking. We have a multi-faceted program, a strategy that addresses awareness, identification, reduction and enforcement of policies associated with human trafficking.”
In addition to educating younger soldiers, “all our leadership training — our company commander course, our first sergeant course, our NCO academies — all now have instruction relative to human trafficking and prostitution,” LaPorte said.
Another facet is offering alternative for drinking off-post. Late night sports leagues, more movies, 24-hour facilities and increased chapel offerings help, LaPorte said.
“We’ve been doing this for a quite a while. And I’ll tell you, over the past two to three years, there has been a marked decline in crime, alcohol-related incidents and sexually transmitted diseases,” LaPorte said. “If you look for measures of effectiveness, are your policies being effective … we’re getting good solid positive indications our policies are working.”