United States: Address Role Of U.S. Military In Fueling Global Sex Trafficking
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In the 1980s, the U.S. Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines was the largest U.S. military base outside of the U.S. with an estimated 500 million USD generated by the brothels surrounding it. Local traffickers and brothel owners engaged in the business of buying and selling women and girls to meet the demands of the servicemen stationed there. Alma
, who had dreams of becoming an accountant, was one of the women sold in the local sex industry. After three years, she was able to escape this life and subsequently co-founded Buklod ng Kababaihan, a group that helps other exploited women. Though the U.S. bases in the Philippines officially closed in the 1990s, the problem persists today as U.S. sex tourists travel there to take advantage of the commercial sex industry entrenched by the once-large U.S. military presence. Thousands of U.S. servicemen are still deployed in the Philippines where they continue to seek out local women in prostitution despite laws against it. Alma and Buklod continue to fight the exploitation of the estimated 300,000 to 400,000 women and up to 100,000 children in the Philippines commercial sex industry.
It is widely acknowledged that where there is a large military presence, there will be a significant and concurrent growth of the commercial sex industry and trafficking of women and girls into the industry. As former U.S. anti-trafficking Ambassador John Miller stated in 2004, “human trafficking, especially for women and girls forced into prostitution, has followed demand where a multitude of U.S. and foreign aid workers, humanitarian workers, civilian contractors, and yes, U.S. uniformed personnel, operate.” For example, in 2012
The Korea Times
reported that women are trafficked to and exploited in brothels around U.S. military bases in South Korea “despite the military’s ‘zero tolerance policy.’” According to one estimate, more than one million Korean women have been used in prostitution by U.S. troops since 1945.
Nearly ten years ago, after noting this rampant trafficking and exploitation around U.S. bases in South Korea and other countries, Equality Now and our Korean partners began advocating
for the U.S. government to institute a zero tolerance policy on sex trafficking and the demand for commercial sex that fuels it.
The U.S. government has recognized that the buying and selling of sex is often intrinsically linked to sex trafficking. Sex trafficking is a criminal industry that operates on the market principles of supply and demand. The demand is created by men who pay for commercial sex, ensuring that sex trafficking continues to exist. Traffickers, pimps and facilitators profit from this demand by supplying the millions of women and girls who are exploited on a daily basis around the world. In response to this recognized link, in 2005 the U.S. government amended the Manual for Courts-Martial to specifically enumerate “patronizing a prostitute” as a violation of Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. While this provision has been in place for eight years, as of 2012 there have only been 31 cases brought for “patronizing a prostitute” or “pandering” and only 19 individuals have been convicted.
The U.S. government is bound by international and national anti-trafficking laws and policies to reduce the demand for commercial sex. The UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, requires state parties, including the United States, to “discourage the demand that fosters all forms of exploitation of persons, especially women and children, that leads to trafficking.” Lack of enforcement of the military provision banning the purchase of sex undermines the U.S. government’s commitment to combating sex trafficking, and perpetuates the abuse of women and girls around the world.
The Military Needs To Stop Being A Part Of The Human Trafficking Problem
January 30, 2015 at 05:00 AM
Sailors man the rails of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell (DDG 85) as the ship arrives in Saipan for a port visit.
Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Chris Cavagnaro
It’s time to talk about an uncomfortable truth. I, like many of you, traveled the world while I served in the military. And I, like many of you, saw my brothers in arms participating in human trafficking.
One instance stands out to me. In the Navy, when you’re visiting a port, someone in command leadership must brief sailors on the ins and outs of the port, including restricted areas. Without fail, these briefs contain a message about how sailors and Marines are not to participate in human trafficking of any kind, including prostitution or other sex industry practices.
There we were, off the coast of Saipan, receiving our port brief from the command master chief. He made a big show of decrying human trafficking, reminding the crew of our annual training. Yet several hours later, he was spotted by many sailors walking around town with multiple local women on his arm --- and it was no secret that he had paid for their services.
This is the problem. The Pentagon seemingly recognizes that military indulgence in human trafficking is an issue, but when we get down to the unit level, commanders and their surrogates just don’t care. During my 12 years in the Navy, it was very clear that many of the sailors aboard ship created a demand for the services rendered through human trafficking. What was also clear was that no one would be charged or prosecuted for these crimes. My first ship even saw a captain who routinely paid for sexual “work” overseas.
What message does this behavior, our behavior, send? To the crew, it says that laws are more akin to suggestions. To civilians, it says that the military does not care to combat human trafficking. To women, it says they are nothing but goods to be bought and sold, treated like sub-humans; it’s no wonder we have such a culture problem in the military with regard to serving with women.
January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. The Junior League of San Diego organization recently hosted a rally
to raise awareness, and at one point, a brave young woman took the stage to tell her story. She told the crowd about answering a modeling ad and being promptly raped when she came in for her “interview.” She later learned that her rape was videotaped and distributed as pornography. She courageously walked us through her struggles, which have culminated in a piece of art meant to shed light on the young men and women affected by this issue.
There are myriad heartbreaking stories like the one described above. As survivors tell them, people become increasingly, and more visibly, uncomfortable. But being uncomfortable to hear such horrific tales is an essential response; we must turn that discomfort into action. Human trafficking affects not just undocumented immigrants and the poorest among us. Victims are our sons and daughters. Our nieces and nephews. Our brothers and sisters. And, yes, our mothers and fathers.
The lack of meaningful enforcement within the military is a slap in the face to the American people. We are charged with protecting all Americans. When we create demand for humans to be forced into modern-day slavery, we are doing quite the opposite. To be clear, I am not saying that the Department of Defense encourages this behavior. I would, however, argue that the issue is not taken seriously enough, especially at the unit level. When sailors and Marines engage in this behavior on deployments, they all too often bring it home and contribute to the domestic sex trafficking economy.
Everyone agrees that human trafficking is terrible, so what can we do about it? Let’s make 2015 the year that the DoD comes off the map as a consumer of human trafficking. Service members must be cognizant that paying for humans is deplorable and illegal. Leadership needs to set the example. As a culture, we must agree to hold ourselves to a high standard of conduct, and those who don’t should be punished.
Breaking the link between the military and sex trafficking
Oct 30, 2015
If you live in the United States, chances are very good that you live within five hours of a military base. In fact, every single one of the current U.S. UnBound chapters
is less than an hour and a half from a major military base. How often do we consider the military and base towns when we discuss anti-trafficking efforts?
One thing to consider is that military operations have been inextricably linked with the exploitation of women for most of human history. In the book of Joshua, Rahab the prostitute provides critical information (that she may have gained from her liaisons with powerful men) to the Israelite spies, which saves her life and the lives of her relatives. Women often traveled with the Roman forces, even as Christian emperors gained power in the early 12th century and decrees were made that these women would be punished if caught in the act.
The modern-day U.S. military base in South Korea has often been described as a massive international hub of sex trafficking that emerged primarily in response to the large population of male soldiers. Just in the last year, an Army Sergeant First Class stationed at Fort Hood was convicted
of organizing a prostitution ring through manipulating female soldiers that he outranked and that he knew were having financial issues.
The U.S. military has a policy of ‘zero tolerance’ towards sex trafficking, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice lists severe punishments for prostitution, soliciting a prostitute and enticing others to prostitution. Unfortunately, these policies often go unenforced due to an indifference or justification of sexual exploitation.
What can we do to change the atmosphere around the military and sex trafficking?
- Know that sexual exploitation in the military is in large part due to hyper-masculinized tendencies and widespread objectification of women. Finding ways to address these underlying causes, without taking away from the necessary character of the military, is critical to preventing sex trafficking.
- Power dynamics play a major role in hierarchical institutions like the military. Anti-trafficking advocates can make it a priority to build strong, trusting relationships with victim advocates and other significant units on base to rely on when it appears that victims are being subjected to forced silence.
- Obviously, most military members do not in any way participate in sexual exploitation, and are as repulsed by its occurrence as their local communities. We can encourage and provide the means for allies within base communities to make their voices heard through community prevention and awareness measures.
Those who choose to serve in our military are some of our nation’s best and brightest, and deserve our respect for their courage and, too often, for the sacrifice of their lives. As a nation and as supportive communities, we can demonstrate our respect through choosing to hold those who serve to the highest standards. The military has the capacity to stop violence not only outside our borders, but also within, through rising to the challenge of finally breaking the link between the armed forces and sex trafficking. As communities, we can provide support, education and advocacy to ensure that our base towns can be places of honor and freedom.