Korean Court Rules in Favor of Compensation for Prostitutes that Worked Outside of US Military Bases

This is ruling about prostitution outside US military bases is nothing new and widely known for decades throughout Korea:

Women who were encouraged by the South Korean government to work as prostitutes near US military bases hold a press conference outside of the Seoul High Court in the Seocho neighborhood following a court ruling on their case on Feb. 8. (by Kim Min-kyung, staff reporter)

A court issued a first-ever ruling acknowledging that the Republic of Korea actively justified or encouraged prostitution with the operation of US “military camp towns” for the sake of the military alliance and foreign currency acquisition.“In regarding the right to sexual self-determination of the women in the camp town and the very character of the plaintiffs as represented through their sexuality as means of achieving state goals, the state violated its obligation to respect human rights,” the court concluded, ordering the payment of compensation to all 117 plaintiffs.

Hon. Judge Lee Beom-gyun of Seoul High Court’s 22nd civil affairs division ruled on Feb. 8 in the case filed by 117 former military camp town prostitutes to demand damages from the state, which was ordered to pay compensation of 7 million won (US$6,370) to 74 of the plaintiffs and 3 million won (US$2,730) to the remaining 43.“According to official Ministry of Health and Welfare documents, [the state] actively encouraged the women in the military camp towns engage in prostitution to allow foreign troops to ‘relax’ and ‘enjoy sexual services’ with them,” the court said.“In the process, [the state] operated and managed the military camp towns with the intention or purpose of contributing to maintenance of a military alliance essential for national security by ‘promoting and boosting morale’ among foreign troops while mobilizing prostitutes for economic goals such as acquisition of foreign currency,” it ruled.  [Hankyoreh]

You can read more at the link, but there is some nuance to the ruling in favor of the prostitutes to worked outside of US military base. The court did not find the government liable for forcing them into prostitution, just managing it by forcing them into medical treatment:

But the court did not accept the plaintiffs’ claim that the state had also violated the law by establishing the base village in the first time “to allow prostitution to take place easily.”“It is impossible to conclude that the victims were in a situation where they did not begin engaging in prostitution within the area of their own free will or could not leave,” the court said.  [Hankyoreh]

This is important because if the government was found to have forced these women into prostitution than that would allow the Japanese right to say that the ROK government should stop complaining about World War II era comfort women when they had their own comfort women system going.  This is technically correct because the ROK government was not grabbing women out of their homes and putting them into clubs.

Many of the prostitutes came from poor families who sold their daughters to the club owners to make ends meet or put a son through college for example.  Other became prostitutes in the hope of marrying a GI to escape poverty.  However, they ended up in the club system they were effectively managed by the Korean government to not spread disease.  They were forcibly given STD treatments and those that were found to be diseased were then forcibly interned.  This is where the human rights violations come into play for these women by the state.

Something to keep in mind is that the US military bases were not the only locations with prostitutes.  Can prostitutes stationed outside ROK Army bases or even in urban red light districts now sue for damages as well?  What about the women brought in from the Philippines beginning in the 1990’s that were forced into prostitution?  Can they sue for damages as well?



I am a US military veteran that has served all over the world to include in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Korea. I have been blogging about Korea, Northeast Asia, and the US military for over 10 years.

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