Since 1945, the United States has maintained a significant military presence in the Republic of Korea (also known as South Korea). Currently, about 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed on military bases throughout the country. Beginning in the 1950s, U.S. Forces in Korea (USFK) identified the need to provide entertainment in order to maintain high levels of morale among U.S. troops stationed there. The USFK and South Korea cooperated to establish centers of “rest and relaxation” for American troops called kijichon near American military bases. What began as a well-meaning effort to keep homesick American troops amused, and Korean citizens employed, resulted in an exploitative network that has spanned international borders and four decades.
Hostess clubs, also known as room salons or juicy bars, which use exploitative and abusive labor practices, have thrived in kijichon communities since the 1950s and have since spread far beyond South Korea’s borders, preying on individuals with limited resources and few options. In Korean kijichon today, the female victims of these establishments are increasingly non-Korean as economic opportunities for South Korean women improve. However, Korean room salons and massage parlors in the United States continue to involve high numbers of Korean victims, partially as a result of the historic relationship between the USFK and kijichon.
A significant percentage of victims involved in Korean trafficking networks in the U.S. were married to U.S. servicemen at one time. Whether the result of a legitimate romantic relationship, or arranged by Korean-American traffickers to get Korean females into the U.S., the divorce rate for marriages between U.S. servicemen and Korean females is high. In her 1997 book, Sex Among Allies: Military Prostitution in U.S. Korea-Relations, Katharine Moon found this rate was about 80 percent. Other Korean trafficking victims are brought to the U.S. by traffickers using uninspected methods of entry into the U.S. and thus, they never pass through immigration checkpoints. Once in the U.S., Korean women, with few contacts in the country and limited English language skills, are particularly vulnerable to Korean trafficking networks and are recruited to enter exploitative situations with no clear exit.
Similar to Latino Cantina bars, a system of debt bondage operates within these hostess clubs. The manipulation of debts by controllers is a pervasive means of control in Korean trafficking networks. Victims accrue debt from room and board charges faster than they earn wages.
Like the kijichon in South Korea, Korean Room Salons are often located near U.S. military bases and thus, are widely distributed throughout the United States. You can help law enforcement identify these establishments in your community by familiarizing yourself with the signs of human trafficking. This list is not exhaustive and represents only a selection of possible indicators. Also, the red flags in this list are not cumulative and may not apply to all cases of trafficking. Consider asking these questions:
• What circumstances was the person recruited under?
• If they are providing commercial sex, are they over 18?
• Is the person free to come and go as they please?
• Does the person owe a large debt they are unable to pay off?
Photo Credit: BuckyHermit