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How U.S. bases in South Korea viciously fuel the sex industry

A South Korean prostitute in Seoul. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

It’s no secret that members of the U.S. military frequently mingle with sex workers while they’re abroad. But what are the lives of these often-exploited women like, and what are the long-term consequences of such a seedy system? Zeroing in on the commercial sex zones of South Korea shows how the misogyny of thriving “camptowns” has seeped into society.

Since 1945, as G.I.s turned to prostitution for consolation, the U.S. and South Korean governments supported the sex industry with mandatory inspections and treatments for “entertaining girls,” “comfort stations” in camptowns, and even English and etiquette classes for sex workers. Prostitution became a fundamental part of rebuilding the South Korean economy, as the country wrestled to escape the wreckage of war. One former sex worker said, “Our government was one big pimp for the US military.” Another said, “Women like me were the biggest sacrifice for my country’s alliance with the Americans. Looking back, I think my body was not mine, but the government’s and the U.S. military’s.” Many former prostitutes still live in camptowns because of stigma.

Today, South Korea’s camptowns consist primarily of women from the Philippines, Russia, and former Soviet republics. South Korea even has an “entertainer” visa for such women, which actually requires an HIV test. Many women migrate to South Korea with expectations of higher salaries, good housing and meals, but misleading schemes and blatant contract violations equate to derelict rooms, cheap ramen noodles for food, forced sex work, and lower salaries with hidden fees that submerge workers in constant debt. With the possibility of being arrested or deported, the women have no choice but to endure abuse. Their only escape appears to be securing a commitment from a soldier, but about 90 percent of the women end up abandoned. It’s not uncommon for them to be left alone when a G.I.’s tour is done, despite being pregnant, or married.

One of the many legacies of conflict has been South Korea becoming a destination for trafficked women, and the sex industry continues to hold a poisonous grip on the nation. Although the country outlawed prostitution in 2004, the practice has only become more clandestine, with “juicy bars” brimming with imported, abused women who have little freedom.

Read the full story at Politico.

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