United States: Address role of U.S. military in fueling global sex trafficking

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Date: 
4 Mar 2013

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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.

TAKE ACTION NOW! << Click on this link to send all letters below online.

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.

What You Can Do: 

TAKE ACTION NOW! << Click on this link to send all letters below online.

  • Please call on the U.S. government to enforce Article 134 of the UCMJ on “pandering” and “patronizing a prostitute” and affirm its commitment to combating the demand for commercial sex that fuels sex trafficking. Doing so would help ensure that the United States lives up to its national and international commitments to prevent the sex trafficking and exploitation of women and girls around the world, and its zero tolerance policy on human trafficking.
  • Read Alma’s story as part of Equality Now’s yearlong campaign, Survivor Stories, which showcases survivor leadership in the anti-trafficking movement: www.equalitynow.org/survivorstories

Letters should be addressed to:

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
United States of America
Fax: + 1 202-456-2461
E-mail: president@whitehouse.gov
www.whitehouse.gov/contact

The Hon. Chuck Hagel
Secretary of Defense
Office of the Sec. of Defense
1400 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301
Tel: +1(703) 571-3343
Fax: +1(703) 571-8951
E-mail: chuck.hagel@osd.mil

Ambassador-at-Large Luis CdeBaca
U.S. Department of State
Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
1800 G Street NW,
Washington D.C., 20520
Tel: +1(202) 312-9639
Fax:  +1(202) 312-9637

Letters: 

Dear President/Secretary/Ambassador,

I am concerned about the U.S. military’s role in fueling sex trafficking and exploitation in the commercial sex industry around the world. The U.S. government has officially recognized the link between the demand for commercial sex and the sex trafficking industry, and took action in 2005 to ban U.S. service members from purchasing sex. However, I am troubled that this provision against purchasing sex is not being adequately enforced. Recent news articles and reports indicate that women and girls continue to be trafficked to and exploited in brothels around U.S. military bases overseas despite the U.S. government’s zero tolerance policy on sex trafficking and the demand that fuels it.

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. The U.S. government is bound by international and national anti-trafficking laws and policies to reduce this demand. 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.

I respectfully urge the U.S. government to enforce the provision banning U.S. service members from purchasing sex and affirm its commitment to combating the demand  that fuels sex trafficking. Doing so would help ensure the United States lives up to its national and international commitments to prevent the sex trafficking and exploitation of women and girls around the world, and its zero tolerance policy on human trafficking. Thank you for your attention.

Sincerely,