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And in practice, U.S. military officials have long placed South Korean “glass houses,” where prostitutes sit in storefronts like meat hanging in a butcher shop window, off-limits.
But no such blanket prohibition exists for juicy bars, despite their history of trouble. About 50 entertainment establishments — U.S. officials don’t identify juicy bars or use the term — have been declared no-go zones for U.S. Forces Korea personnel due to prostitution and human trafficking violations. Another 19 outside Osan Air Base were almost added to that list earlier this year for similar reasons before they collectively agreed to clean up their acts.
Still, dozens — if not hundreds — of other juicy bars, like the one outside Camp Casey, have managed to evade sanctions.
The problems are so widespread that the U.S. State Department, in its 2009 “Trafficking in Persons Report,” notes that South Korea is a “destination country” for women from the Philippines and elsewhere in Asia, “some of whom are recruited to work on entertainment visas and may be vulnerable to trafficking for sexual exploitation or domestic servitude.”
“Does prostitution occur? I imagine it does,” said Watson Wallace Jr., civilian misconduct action specialist for the Area I Support Activity Directorate of Human Resources and an affiliate of the USFK Prostitution and Human Trafficking Working Group. “But, we don’t authorize it. We don’t tolerate it. And, if we find out it is going on, that bar goes off-limits.”
U.S. military representatives say they believe most of the juicy bars stick to selling juice — and the few minutes of female companionship that each $10 glass can buy a servicemember. That is why they say they have not put all the juicy bars categorically off-limits.
“There is a constant review, all the time, of all these places,” said Charles Johnson, an action officer with the USFK working group. “A decision was made years ago that glass houses were off limits because … the thought is it is probably an unhealthy or immoral area that lends itself to prostitution. With the other establishments, it’s a case-by-case basis.”
But there are also powerful economic factors that help keep the doors to the juicy bars open and American servicemen flowing inside.
The juicy bars are a big part of the tourist business in South Korea, and many are officially licensed by the government. About 200 “entertainment establishments” get tax breaks through the Tourism Promotion Act on the condition they cater primarily to foreigners, according to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.
And juicy bar owners themselves have political muscle they aren’t shy about flexing. Owners of the 19 Osan-area juicy bars threatened with U.S. sanctions protested outside the base and enlisted the help of local political officials. And at Camp Casey earlier this year, juicy bar owners demanded that U.S. military officials do something to prevent American soldiers from wooing away their bar girls with promises of marriage.
Close government scrutiny of the juicy bars is lacking. Officials of Korean government and police agencies said they suspect prostitution occurs inside juicy bars, but none said their agency has primary responsibility for addressing the problem.
“We expect something suspicious is going on there. However, there is no way for us to confirm these offenses,” said a spokesman for the police in Dongducheon, home to Camp Casey and the 70 juicy bars nearby in The Ville entertainment district.
“We see this problem very seriously, although this one is a very sensitive issue,” another Dongducheon police official said, suggesting any crackdown on the juicy bars would likely cause problems with the bar owners and the U.S. military. Korean police customarily speak without name attribution.
“We are worried about [it becoming a] diplomatic issue,” the official said.
The means by which Filipinas are brought to South Korea to work the bars are sanctioned under Korean law. But what many must do to reimburse the promoters and club owners who sponsor them is not always above board or explained to them until after they arrive, according to Yu and two former juicy bar employees.
The process of getting the women to South Korea is extensive and expensive, according to Cho Kyu-moon, president of the Foreign Artist Promotion Co., and Cho Yong-seok, owner of Xanadu, a Camp Casey-area club.
The women are first recruited by promoters in the Philippines. Then, in order to try to qualify for visas as “entertainers,” they must record a video of themselves singing, which is sent to the Korea Media Rating Board for review. A spokesman for the Rating Board said judges review as many as 80 videos each day, and less than half the women who submit them are deemed worthy of an entertainer visa.
Cho Yong-seok and Cho Kyu-moon said the women are “sometimes” asked to sing once they arrive in South Korea, but the former juicy bar employees said one would be lucky to even find a microphone in most clubs.
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