Inside the disturbing sex industry thriving around America’s bases.

At night in the Songtan camptown outside Osan Air Base in South Korea, I wandered through streets that were getting louder and more crowded now that the sun had set.

As the night progressed, hip-hop boomed out of bars along the main pedestrian mall and from second-floor clubs with neon-lit names like Club Woody’s, Pleasure World, Whisky a-Go-Go and the Hook Up Club.

Many of the bars have stages with stripper poles for women to dance to the flash of stage lights and blasting music. In other bars, groups of mostly Filipina women in tight skirts and dresses talked to one another, leaning over the table as they shot pool. Some were chatting with a handful of GIs, young and old. Groups of younger GIs walked together through the red-light-district-meets-pedestrian-mall scene, peering into bars and considering their options. Bright signs for cheap hotels beckoned. Near a small food cart, a sign read, “man only massage prince hotel.

For anyone in the U.S. military, it would have been a familiar sight. As long as armies have been fighting each other, and long before women were widely seen on the battlefield, female labor has been essential to the everyday operation of most militaries. But women haven’t just washed the laundry, cooked the food and nursed injured troops back to health.

Women’s sex work has long been used to help keep male troops happy—or at least happy enough to keep working for the military. Today, commercial sex zones thrive in tandem with many U.S. bases around the world, from Baumholder in Germany to Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Many look much the same, filled with liquor stores, fast-food outlets, tattoo parlors, bars and clubs, and prostitution in one form or another.

The problems associated with the sex trade are particularly pronounced in South Korea, where “camptowns” that surround U.S. bases have become deeply entrenched in the country’s economy, politics and culture. Dating to the 1945 …

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