International Humanitarian Law (IHL) prohibits all forms of human rights violations, including human trafficking, slavery, torture, and other means of inhumane treatment. Yet, there is a correlation between the deployment of United States military, peacekeepers, and humanitarian aid workers to post-conflict regions and an increase in the trafficking of women and children. By trafficking, I am referring to forced prostitution, labor, slavery, and other forms of exploitation that defy humanity. The U.S. has played a key role in advancing the sex trade industry throughout history, most notably in South Korea where brothels still thrive around military bases. Serve, honor, protect, and abuse? It seems quite hypocritical to me.
Early this week, I discussed the first reauthorization of TVPRA (2003) and its impact on child sex tourism. For the first time in federal legislation history, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2005, an amendment made to the original TVPA of 2000, acknowledged the issue of service people and human trafficking. Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, service people can now be legally prosecuted for engaging in paid sex acts. Some of the consequences include dishonorable discharge, a forfeit of monies, and prison time. Taking it a step further, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008 enforced human trafficking training and education for all service members. Accountability and expectations of all Federal departments and agencies increased—pushing to observe, track, and take immediate action against officials who violate human trafficking law. The U.S. is doing an exemplary job at advancing anti-trafficking policy with each passing TVPA reauthorization. Nevertheless, I question the effectiveness of the legislation as studies have shown continued military and federal contractor involvement in the sex trafficking industry with no serious consequences.
The demand for prostitution has not decreased, as evidenced by the prominence of brothels around U.S. military bases. Therefore, it leads me to believe that sanctions are not being carried out properly. I wonder if officials are afraid of repercussions for identifying or turning in fellow service members for possible termination and prosecution—afraid of backlash, demotion, losing their jobs.
The United States implemented the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 to protect federal employees who file complaints regarding violations, mismanagement, abuse, and other sorts of misconduct. Furthermore, the Office of Inspector General maintains a Defense Hotline for federal employees to call and file violation complaints. However, intimidation and a lack of protection and regulation of the law, may deter officials from reporting malfeasance.
Just take the case of a DynCorp whistleblower, Ben Johnston, who was fired after filing a complaint about fellow servicemen buying sex from children and bragging about their experiences, in addition to other criminal acts such as purchasing illegal weapons and forging passports. Kathryn Bolkovac was another whistleblower who was terminated from DynCorp for similar complaints. To this day, DynCorp, continues to operate as a federal contractor with 96% of its revenue coming from the U.S. federal government.
Even if federal employees knew in their hearts or mind that inhumane treatment was being carried out by associates and wanted to file a report, it is unlikely they will want to jeopardize their own sense of security. I suggest implementing stronger whistleblower protection policies, federally and corporately. It is necessary to create a fair and ethical environment. It is necessary to protect the innocent and victimized women and children who are targeted by those who have sworn to serve, honor, and protect. With stricter policy reform, a decrease in sex trafficking is likely—at least around U.S. military bases. It would also improve the United States’ image, credibility, and international relationships in regards to carrying out post-conflict missions. How can the U.S. be at the forefront of the anti-trafficking movement when its own personnel are a driving force behind the sex trade industry across the globe?Cynthia Castaldo-Walsh is a Program and Research Intern with the SISGI Group focused on gender-based conflict, non-violence and peacebuilding for conflict transformation, and sustainability for conflict resolution.