(MintPress)—In the wake of the Secret Service Colombian prostitution scandal, a Brazilian woman is filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Embassy on complaints related to a broken collarbone, allegedly inflicted by three Marines and one embassy supervisor accused of pushing the victim out of a car last year following a dispute over prostitution service payments.
While former president George W. Bush signed an executive order in 2005 cracking down on military personnel’s engagement in prostitution, the two incidents in South America highlight possible concerns regarding a military culture that could negatively reflect on all U.S. troops.
The Associated Press reports the U.S. Embassy paid for the Brazilian woman’s medical expenses, but was filed with lawsuit papers following publicity surrounding the Secret Service scandal in Cartagena, which involved at least 12 U.S. Military personnel and up to 20 women. The Colombian case is argued to only have been revealed after one woman confronted an agent in a hallway over payment concerns.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced Tuesday the men in the Brazilian case have been punished, saying one Marine was sent home from the country, while the two others were subject to rank reductions. The embassy staff person was “removed from his post.”
Prostitution scandals in the U.S. Military
Recent allegations of military involvement in the sex trade through prostitution only add to the list of allegations — both formal and informal — made against United States military personnel serving overseas. A study by Humantrafficking.org revealed in that, over the last 60 years, roughly 1 million Korean women have been used by U.S. troops for prostitution.
In South Korea, 12 of the largest military bases are located near “camptowns,” which heavily consist of brothels and bars, according to the International Organization for Migration — a startling figure for those aiming to combat sex trafficking. Currently, 30,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea.
Of those women in brothels, many are alleged to have been forced into the lifestyle, either through trafficking or socioeconomic status. In 2010, a report by human rights organization Tolerance Equality Awareness Movement revealed more than 5,000 women had been trafficked from Russia, Eastern Europe and the Philippines to brothels near U.S. bases in South Korea — a location whose women know all too well the culture of prostitution.
In 2002, legislators angered over a Fox News report revealing an abundance of brothels near foreign military bases took action by sending a letter to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, demanding that action be taken to investigate claims that prostitutes near military bases were being forced into sexual relations with American military personnel. Under the U.S. Military Code of Conduct, it is unlawful to engage in prostitution.
According to a Time magazine article published after the complaint, the Pentagon had not indicated whether an investigation was conducted.
The legislators’ actions came two years after the U.S. signed into law the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, which aimed to combat human trafficking — specifically for prostitution — domestically and internationally. Reports that military personnel were on the receiving end of forced prostitution rings violated the U.S. allegiance to this Act, as it defines sex trafficking as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act.”
The most common known occurrence of military-sponsored prostitution occurred in Japan during World War II, a time in which the Japanese government is accused of setting up government-run brothels in countries they occupied, including South Korea, China and the Philippines. It’s estimated that 200,000 women were subject to sexual slavery during this time, according to the BBC.
The mentality behind such ‘comfort houses’ lied in the reasoning that prostitution services led to high morale among the military rank. In order to keep troops ‘clean,’ women were subject to regular doctor visits, in which government-sponsored physicians inspected women for cases of sexually transmitted diseases. Women suffering with illnesses that could be treated were placed in “monkey houses” until they were ready to be forced back into force.
Women who were subject to sexual abuse through the government’s comfort women program had a limited chance of living a life outside of the prostitution world. Filled with shame, many women were not welcome back into previous societies, providing them with little opportunity to rise above the brothel world.
When the war ended, the tradition of comfort women didn’t cease. Instead, it lived on, with speculation that U.S. troops occupying Japan continued to fuel the program. According to a report by Donna M. Hughes, Chair of Women Studies at the University of Rhode Island, the Republic of Korea, along with U.S. forces created rest and relaxation centers, which essentially served as brothels for U.S. troops — they were known as kijichon, which translates as ‘military towns.’
In 2009, former South Korean prostitutes accused their own government and the United States military of actively taking part in the brothel industry, providing services for prostitutes near U.S.-military bases to ensure they were not transmitting diseases onto U.S. soldiers — a program eerily similar to that of the Japanese government’s in WWII.
In a 2009 interview with the New York Times, one former prostitute summed up the role of she and fellow women who worked in the brothels.
“Our government was one big pimp for the U.S. military,” 58-year-old Kim Ae-ran said.
Still waiting for apology
The women who suffered at the hand of their government in World War II are still waiting for an apology. While widely recognized as a piece of wartime history, surviving victims still haven’t received acknowledgement and remorse from the Japanese parliament. Japan as a whole issued an apology in 1993, but parliament never recognized the action and compensation has never been given to any of the living victims.
Women became more vocal about the abuse they endured in the 1980s and 90s, as experts speculate that speaking out directly following the abuses would have led to severe uncomfort in a society that values pureness.
Survivors have demanded an apology, not only for themselves, but for the sake of historical accuracy. Informing generations to come of the sexual violence women were once subjected to can only help to deter women from falling into prostitution, and would bring to light a taboo subject in a country still riddled with military-related brothels.
While the U.S. government has not acknowledged use of comfort women in Japan and South Korea, it has put pressure on the Japanese government to acknowledge the systematic abuse of women during wartime. In 2007, Congress passed a nonbinding resolution — which essentially just made a statement — demanding Japanese parliament recognize and apologize to survivors and their families.
According to a BBC report, then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, said there was no proof the government forced women into prostitution — a remark that caused outrage among the Japanese public.