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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.