As introduced last week, I’d like to use this space to report on the violence being perpetrated against women in conflict and war situations. As the possessor of the world’s largest military force, the United States has the capacity to do much good, and indeed it has. However, those endowed with great power are often faced with the temptation to abuse it, and today I’d like to talk about how the U.S. military has engaged in questionable conduct in my homeland of South Korea.
First, some context. Following the Korean War (1950-1953), the U.S. established bases in South Korea to defend the country in case of a North Korean attack; currently, there are 100 such bases throughout the country with over 30,000 American troops. In the 1950s––1970s, the South Korean government and the United States Forces in Korea (USFK) jointly agreed to set up “rest and relaxation” centers for American troops. Aimed to provide reprieve and entertainment for weary soldiers, these centers developed into kijichon (military camp towns) where only U.S. troops and servicemembers are allowed access. While prostitution is against the law in Korea, these centers are nevertheless teeming with prostitutes––or “comfort women”––with an estimated 20,000 in each kijichon.
Findings like these led Hughes et al. (http://vaw.sagepub.com/cgi/reprint/13/9/901) to call the military bases and the kijichon a “hub for the transnational trafficking of women for prostitution and related forms of sexual exploitation.” The authors specifically cited “transnational trafficking” because they discovered that women were being transported within the country as well as across its borders, most often to massage parlors in the U.S. Thus, these women were being sought not only by U.S. and Korean military personnel, but also by civilian men in both countries. Furthermore, in some cases, the U.S. soldiers were themselves traffickers. In one particularly egregious example, a 14-year-old Korean girl was abducted and raped by members of the Korean army. She was then given over to an American soldier and subsequently moved to America, where she was then sold into a massage parlor circuit.
U.S. servicemen are also accused of physically abusing the very same women they traffic. The National Campaign for the Eradication of Crime by U.S. Troops in South Korea reported that U.S. soldiers committed over 10,000 crimes from 1945 to 1999. The most recently reported example occurred in 2000, when two American soldiers beat a 31-year-old bar waitress to death because she refused to have sex with them.
As a Korean, news of such atrocities hits very close to home and serves as a reminder that we all––citizen or soldier, Korean or American––need to held accountable, starting with me. One thing I want to make clear is that the lionshare of the blame does not lie with any one ethnic or racial group. As I mentioned, both Korean and Americans engaged in these despicable acts. Furthermore, in my fall quarter international health class we learned that to stand pat in the face of criminality is tantamount to complicity. Thus, this is my small but genuine effort to get the word out and call for an end to violence against my kindred.