South Korea accused of using women as prostitutes to prop up the country’s ecomony and keep U.S. soldiers “entertained.”

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The NYT reports:

… Scholars on the issue say that the South Korean government was motivated in part by fears that the American military would leave, and that it wanted to do whatever it could to prevent that.

But the women suggest that the government also viewed them as commodities to be used to shore up the country’s struggling economy in the decades after the Korean War. They say the government not only sponsored classes for them in basic English and etiquette : meant to help them sell themselves more effectively : but also sent bureaucrats to praise them for earning dollars when South Korea was desperate for foreign currency.

“They urged us to sell as much as possible to the G.I.’s, praising us as ‘dollar-earning patriots,’ “Ms. Kim said.

The United States military, the scholars say, became involved in attempts to regulate the trade in so-called camp towns surrounding the bases because of worries about sexually transmitted diseases.

In one of the most incendiary claims, some women say that the American military police and South Korean officials regularly raided clubs from the 1960s through the 1980s looking for women who were thought to be spreading the diseases. They picked out the women using the number tags the women say the brothels forced them to wear so the soldiers could more easily identify their sex partners.

The Korean police would then detain the prostitutes who were thought to be ill, the women said, locking them up under guard in so-called monkey houses, where the windows had bars. There, the prostitutes were forced to take medications until they were well.

The women, who are seeking compensation and an apology, have compared themselves to the so-called comfort women who have won widespread public sympathy for being forced into prostitution by the Japanese during World War II. Whether prostitutes by choice, need or coercion, the women say, they were all victims of government policies. …

Read the whole article here. While the author asserts “the women have made no claims that they were coerced into prostitution by South Korean or American officials during those years,” one woman was quoted as saying:”Our government was one big pimp for the U.S. military,”and quotes another asserting that hunger drove her into prostitution. In addition, the author noted:

Transcripts of parliamentary hearings also suggest that at least some South Korean leaders viewed prostitution as something of a necessity. In one exchange in 1960, two lawmakers urged the government to train a supply of prostitutes to meet what one called the”natural needs”of allied soldiers and prevent them from spending their dollars in Japan instead of South Korea. The deputy home minister at the time, Lee Sung-woo, replied that the government had made some improvements in the”supply of prostitutes”and the”recreational system”for American troops.

–Ann Bartow

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