camptown prostitution


summary of my notes from the workshop:

Basically the workshop was an overview of how prostitution in Korea has been state sanctioned since Japanese colonization continuously through to today.  It gave historical background on how socially vulnerable women were targeted to be sex workers, how their occupations were laundered on paper, and how they were relegated to live in comfort stations.  After WWII, the US military put pressure on the Korean government to insure the safety of their military men who frequented these sex workers, so the government complied by retaining the Japanese system which effectively confined women so they could be monitored.  During the Korean war, this system was repurposed with the intent to keep foreign military personnel’s focus away from the general population to reduce the pollution of Korean blood.

Then it went into the strange economic relationship between the U.S. and Korea during reconstruction to the present.  A prohibition of prostitution was put in place publicly under the Park Chung Hee regime, while at the same time prostitution was encouraged by the state to boost commerce in red light districts that popped up near military bases.  U.S. servicemen were told to suppress themselves yet were encouraged to frequent the red light districts for R&R, which was like a wild west.  Alarmed by the increase in std’s, unchecked because prostitution was prohibited, the U.S. threatened no soldiers could leave base unless something was done.  In sex trade competition with Japan, Korea changed tactics in order to guarantee the health of sex workers so the military would continue patronage of the camp towns. Prohibition changed to anti-prostitution with the “Tourism Promotion Law” and all the rhetoric changed so the government could justify assisting in cleaner sex trade to increase it and all the other related commerce associated with it.  Sex workers also became mules for funneling in scarce commodities through black market payment in PX coupons.  They were also used to cement trade deals with foreign investors, the government, and chaebols. This is pretty much the same set up that exists today, except that many military men prefer to court Korean women as girlfriends now, to the general public’s horror.  However, I assume that’s not immediate enough for many and the camp towns still thrive. A lot of domestic military frequent these camp towns as well.

Around this same time, another part of “Tourism Promotion” the Ministry of Tourism created a “Gisaeng Dept.” to promote Japanese tourism.  Only these Korean geishas recruited by the government had std checks twice a week.  This practice was discontinued when the democracy movement’s students protested.

Later, in the 90’s a sex worker murdered by military personnel became an excuse for anti US imperialism outrage.  Instead of sympathy for the sex workers, they were unbearably ostracized by their countrymen and many left.  It was about this time that E-6 entertainment visas were used by camp town business owners to import new sex workers in from Russia and S.E. Asian countries.

My notes are missing why the Russian Visas were discontinued, but today most camp town workers come from the Philippines and have “singer” listed as their profession. Prostitution is still illegal in Korea, yet though there are occasional sweeps that get press, no real concerted effort is put forth.  Camp towns are still labeled as tourism zones and prostitution is allowed to flourish because it is “contained” and still a significant generator of income to the Korean economy.  There is no regulation of U.S. military sexual conduct off base, only military image damage control (my characterization) training sessions informing them that migrant sex workers amounts to human trafficking.  (A military representative was there to make sure we knew they were not condoning patronage, referring to the practice in terms of supporting slavery, while at the same time they obviously don’t restrict it)  There is no law against human trafficking in Korea.  Nobody is prosecuting business owners for fraudulent Visa sponsorship. Many of these women are enslaved because their Visas are withheld from them and they are in debt for being brought to this land of opportunity.

Of course, the workshop had many more details and was based on Na Young Lee’s well researched book, which you can purchase through “Women’s Global Solidarty Action Network.”  They can be reached via their facebook page.

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5 thoughts on “camptown prostitution

  1. “There is no law against human trafficking in Korea.”
    Do you mean “the Republic of Korea does not have a comprehensive trafficking law that fully complies with international norms.”

    Somehow S. Korea managed to make 11 arrests last year, reached Tier 1 of the 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report despite “In addition, there have been no convictions of Korean child sex tourists or labor trafficking offenders in the past five years.”

    Thank you for the summary!

    Who in “the US military put pressure on the Korean government to insure the safety of their military men who frequented these sex workers”?

    So the message was that if it weren’t for the U.S. military “A lot of domestic military(WOULD NOT) frequent these camp towns as well.”

  2. Again, this is just a summary of my notes, so you’re getting this quite removed from its source. The author was paraphrasing her own work in Korean, a translator was interpreting that, and then I was writing my abbreviated notes. So, if you’into specifics & source reference material, I’d encourage you to buy her book!

    “So the message was that if it weren’t for the U.S. military “A lot of domestic military(WOULD NOT) frequent these camp towns as well.””

    That wasn’t the message or focus, nor was that speculated. The focus (my take on it) was more a critique of the Korean government for colluding in and perpetuating the exploitation of Korean women.

  3. Actually, I’m not even sure if its critique was that targeted: it was a history of camp towns. Plenty of places to point ones fingers. Those in power to make policy, of course, are most suspect.

  4. “There is no regulation of U.S. military sexual conduct off base, only military image damage control (my characterization)…”

    I can’t speak to the situation today but when I was there in the 1990s, there was regulation (I’m a female veteran). The red light districts were strictly off limits. That’s not to say there wasn’t plenty of prostitution in the clubs though.

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