So, just how many Korean prostitutes are plying their trade in the United States?
Well, according to one Korean government official cited by the JoongAng Ilbo, the Los Angeles Police Department suspects some 8,000 Korean women have entered the United States to practice the World’s Oldest Profession since 2004. In particular, since Korea’s Special Law on the Eradication of Prostitution went into effect in September 2004, the number of working girls fleeing to the United States via Canada and Mexico has been climbing.
In Waterbury, Connecticut, 33 Korean women were arrested in early June for allegedly providing sexual services at area massage parlors. A Waterbury police official said Korean massage parlors have been spreading at a fast rate.
According to the JoongAng Ilbo, Korean prostitution is becoming a social problem in the United States, and this in turn has led to increased anti-Korean feeling in the country. On June 30 of 2005, a 400-man joint FBI-Department of Homeland Security-police task force arrested 192 Koreans, including 150 women accused of prostitution, in Los Angeles and San Francisco. When local broadcasters, including NBC, reported on the arrests, on screen was the Korean flag (!). This year, there were a string of arrests of suspected prostitutes in Korean neighborhoods in New York and Virginia. An LAPD official said some 70-80 prostitutes were arrested every month, and 90 percent of them were Korean.
U.S. law enforcement agencies have been on alert recently as the problem seems to be spreading from predominantly Korean areas to non-Korean areas in Middle America. A Korean government official said with some prostitutes getting busted after setting up shop in their apartments, anti-Korean sentiment among Americans has been spreading, with incidents of apartment owners refusing to lease to Korean women taking place.
A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson told the JoongAng Ilbo that this kind of prostitution, involving as it does violations of immigration law, money laundering and human rights abuse, was dangerous to the
livelihood of American crack whores American values.
The JoongAng Ilbo also expressed concern that the issue could influence negotiations to extend the U.S. visa waiver program to Korea. A March 2005 U.S. State Department human rights report pointed out that Korean women were being trafficked through Canada and Mexico to work in the U.S. sex industry.
Realizing the seriousness of the problem, the government has moved to formulate measures. In April, the Foreign Ministry, Justice Ministry, prosecutors and police formed a deliberation body to block overseas prostitution, and international law enforcement cooperation is being strengthened. After the 2005 San Francisco arrests, Korea, the United States and Canada formed a deliberative body to discuss the restricting the issuing of passports to those suspected of prostitution and investigation cooperation. Yet as U.S. Consul General to Seoul Michael Kirby pointed out, for a country to joint the U.S. waiver program, what the U.S. public thinks is important, and the recent mass arrests could have a psychological influence. A Korean Foreign Ministry official said for Korea to join the program, it needed to be screened by the Department of Homeland Security and then OK’d by Congress, but if U.S. lawmakers were to come to view Korea in a negative light due to the prostitution issue, there could be problems.