USFK 'juicy bar' ban has owners up in arms
SEOUL, South Korea — A month-old U.S. Forces Korea policy banning servicemembers from buying drinks for “juicy bar” workers in exchange for companionship has angered some bar owners, who say it unfairly labels them as “pimps” and is hurting other establishments that cater to troops.
“It’s nonsensical to treat us as if we are whorehouses,” said Yi Hun-hui, owner of the Cadillac Club near Camp Humphreys. Now, he said, some local bar owners are talking about going into a different line of work because they’re angry at the military. “These were people who liked USFK. They were people who supported USFK, and now they’re embarrassed.”
Typically staffed by scantily clad women who sell pricey, nonalcoholic drinks to servicemembers in exchange for their company, juicy bars have long been a fixture outside a number of USFK installations. Many of those establishments have been linked to prostitution and human trafficking.
“[Bar girls] are subjected to debt bondage and made to sell themselves as companions, or forced into prostitution,” USFK commander Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti wrote in October in a letter updating the command’s policy on juicy bars.
In recent years, many of the women have been brought in from the Philippines on entertainer visas to work at the bars — usually under false pretenses — and forced to work in violation of their visas, according to Scaparrotti’s letter.
For more than a decade, the military has maintained a zero-tolerance policy toward prostitution and human trafficking, but for the first time, the Oct. 15 letter banned servicemembers from buying drinks for workers in juicy bars. Troops are also banned from providing money or anything of value in exchange for a bar worker’s company inside or outside the worker’s place of employment, including fees to play darts or pool, or purchases of souvenirs. Violators are subject to Uniform Code of Military Justice punishment and administrative action and punishment.
USFK declined a request for an interview about the updated policy.
In an emailed statement, the command said leadership is publicizing the new policy through its chain of command and is relying on leaders “at all levels to enforce the policy using means appropriate to their organization.”
USFK’s enforcement of the policy includes routine joint patrols by military and security police. Commanders can place an establishment off-limits if it is deemed unsafe, condones prostitution and human trafficking or “otherwise operates in a manner prejudicial to good order and discipline,” the statement said.
Efforts to curtail military patronage of juicy bars have varied across the peninsula in the past.
Last year, juicy bar owners in Songtan, the area outside Osan Air Base, acted against the Air Force’s stepped-up efforts to put the bars off-limits by protesting for three weeks outside the base.
It appeared that there was no immediate plan for bar owners near USFK installations to protest the latest policy change. However, Yi said regional branches of the Korea Foreigners Tourist Facility Association plan to hold discussions about the policy and at some point deliver their opinions to USFK.
The organization’s Pyeongtaek branch already has asked for support from the city mayor and National Assembly members. It is collecting signatures on a petition from businesses, local citizens and civic groups throughout the city, he said. That petition will be sent to U.S. military officials on the peninsula later this month.
Yi, who employs seven Filipina women, said he ordered his female workers to wear jeans and T-shirts instead of skirts and low-cut tops after the Oct. 15 policy letter was issued.
“I did this so USFK would stop its narrow-minded view that our female employees are hookers,” he said.
It was unclear how or whether the new policy was affecting business for other bar owners. Five claimed the policy change was driving down sales for others, though all of those interviewed denied that their own bars had been hurt by the ban.
Lee Deok Bum, said business hasn’t dropped in recent weeks at Sportsman, his 15-year-old bar in Dongducheon, which employees five Filipina women, but he said he and other bar owners in the city are angry about the new USFK rule. He accused the U.S. military of judging South Korean bars by American cultural standards, not by what is acceptable in Korea.
Some bar owners have complained the new policy is unclear and appears to ban servicemembers from buying drinks for anyone, even friends. The policy letter, however, bans only buying drinks and other items for an “employee’s company or companionship, inside or outside a bar or establishment.”
An official at the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family said the ministry has received no complaints about the new policy from bar owners. The ministry began inspecting businesses that hire foreign entertainers, including some outside U.S. military bases, earlier this year in an effort to reduce human trafficking.
Seo In Ho, owner of Xanadu bar outside Osan Air Base, said most bar owners have interpreted the new policy to mean their USFK clientele can’t buy drinks — even water — for anyone else. One of his friends, a male servicemember, now tells Seo that he can’t even buy the bar owner a drink, and Seo said the ban on buying drinks for companionship is discouraging troops from going to bars at all.
He said all bar owners are being treated as if they are running brothels, and some women who work at bars are quitting because they feel like they’re being treated as prostitutes.
“Our self-respect has been hurt,” he said.