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U.S. forces cracking down on human trafficking in Korea

Sep. 6, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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The U.S. military is cracking down on troops who support businesses connected to human trafficking, blocking airmen from spending money at so-called “juicy bars” and reminding all personnel of the prevalence of the problem businesses around bases in South Korea.

Leaders in the region have issued a series of directives to remind troops that prostitution and human trafficking are illegal, and that U.S. forces in the area must not be connected to the activities.

In the most recent edict, the three-star general in charge of the 7th Air Force in South Korea issued a stern warning Aug. 29 that airmen would face judicial punishment for giving money to any bar or business for “companionship” as part of a Defense Department crackdown on establishments that support human trafficking.

“Airmen subject to this order shall not provide money or anything of value to an employee or establishment in the Republic of Korea for the primary purpose of obtaining an employee’s company or companionship, either inside or outside of the establishment.” The prohibitions include paying fees to play darts, pool or other entertainment or buying a drink or a souvenir in exchange for an employee’s company, according to the memo from Lt. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas, the commander of 7th Air Force.

Airmen who violate the memo are subject to punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and airmen who see another member of 7th Air Force violating the memo are encouraged to contact Security Forces or the U.S. Forces Korea Prostitution and Human Trafficking Hotline.

The memo highlights “disreputable establishments” near Air Force bases that take advantage of people, usually young women, and force them to work in bars. The employees are subjected to debt bondage and forced to sell themselves as “companions.” Near bases, troops are encouraged to buy overpriced drinks, called “juice” drinks, in exchange for company and to relieve bar employees of their workday, Jouas wrote.

“Paying for companionship, in or outside of bars or other establishments, directly supports human traffickers and is a precursor to prostitution and sexual assault,” Jouas wrote. “It is incompatible with our standards and legacy of standing up for the oppressed.”

U.S. officials, along with the governments of South Korea and the Philippines, have found a connection with these bars and human trafficking.

“Additionally, paying for an employee’s companionship promotes demeaning and sexist attitudes towards females and can lead to their treatment as objects rather than equals,” Rouas wrote. “This is intolerable and cannot continue.”

The Air Force memo came three weeks after Army Gen. James Thurman, U.S. Forces Korea commander, wrote about prostitution and human trafficking on the USFK website. The Korean National Police, Thurman said, had recently found evidence of prostitution and human trafficking at an off-base establishment in the Pyeongtaek area that is now off-limits to troops.

“USFK personnel will not facilitate in any way prostitution and human trafficking. It is cruel and demeaning, is linked to organized crime, undermines the (U.S. Forces Korea) mission, and is incompatible with our military core values,” Thurman wrote in the Aug. 7 commander message. “Prostitution and human trafficking activities have direct and negative impacts on our ROK-U.S. Alliance; combat readiness; service member, civilian, and family morale; and community health issues.”

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