South Korea routinely encourages prostitution around military bases for economic gain. Although prostitution in South Korea is technically illegal, the Korea Women’s Development Institute estimates that the sex trade in the country contributed to more than 1.6% of the country’s GDP as late as 2007. In addition, statistics estimate that 23.1% of Korean males have their first sexual experience with a prostitute. Despite legal sanctions and crackdowns, the industry of prostitution continues to flourish in the country.
In 2014, a group of south Korean prostitutes – called “camp town women” – filed an official lawsuit against the Korean government with the help of a civic rights group. The High Court of South Korea ruled that the South Korean government “operated and managed” military camp town in order to “boost morale among foreign troops”. In addition, the “camp towns” were also said to keep an essential military alliance for national security as well as aimed to mobilize prostitutes in order to acquire foreign currency.
After the outbreak of the Korean war, US military authorities occupying the region formalized UN comfort stations. The Pusan Daily wrote
“In a few days, five stations will be set up in the downtown areas of new and old Masan. The authorities are asking citizens to give much cooperation in coming days.”
The 1950’s showed a boom of prostitution surrounding US military bases after the signing of the 1953 Korea-US Mutual Defense Treaty. This document is what legitimized the presence of the US military in the Korean Peninsula and the legal access of US troops to foreign bases in the country. Livelihoods of Koreans in the surrounding areas was based solely on commerce of the military presence in the surrounding towns.
In another lower court ruling, judges called practices a violation of human rights. Reparations were awarded to 57 of the plaintiffs in the case. Additionally, the ruling stated that the responsibility was to both the Korean and US governments. Each plaintiff received an approximate $2,500-$6,300.
US Embassy officials declined to comment on the case or its rulings, stating that it was ongoing. It is possible that the plaintiffs file an appeal to the supreme court. The women involved do not want to drag the case out any further, as it is very emotionally taxing.