The trial continues in the case of three U.S. servicemen stationed in Okinawa accused of raping a 12-year-old Japanese girl in September. In October, the commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Richard C. Macke, was forced to resign after he opined during a news interview that the servicemen had been more stupid than wrong. "For the price they paid to rent the car, they could have had a girl." The distance between rape and prostitution, in his opinion, is the distance between the stupidity of taking it for free and the accepted morality of paying for it.
Macke's remark springs from a tradition of military tolerance and promotion of prostitution for the "rest and recreation" of the troops. Quartered on home or foreign soil, whether in wartime or peacetime, the presence of military men facilitates a global sex industry. The same day that the U.S. servicemen went on trial in Okinawa, the New York Times featured a Page 1 story titled "Bosnia-Bound GI's Energize Merchants of Hungary Town." Asked how the people of Kaposvar, a town near the staging area for 20,000 American soldiers on their way to Bosnia, would greet the Americans, a merchant responded: "We're building the brothels right now."
The United States bears enormous responsibility for the explosion of sexual exploitation in many areas of the world. During the Vietnam War, Thailand was the primary rest and recreation center for U.S. troops. In the Philippines, servicemen based at Subic Bay and Olongapo created the demand for which thousands of women and children were "turned out" for prostitution. Estimates of those in prostitution in Thailand range from 300,000 to 2.8 million, of which one-third are children. In the Philippines, the estimates are 300,000 women in prostitution and 75,000 prostituted children.
Shortly after the alleged Okinawa rape, the U.S. media reported that in 1945, the Japanese government feared the postwar rape of women by sex-starved U.S. soldiers. The authorities recruited tens of thousands of Japanese women to sacrifice themselves on the altar of patriotism as "comfort women" for the Americans. Fresh from its own conscription of Korean, Chinese and Filipino women held in sexual slavery for the carnal "comfort" of Japanese military forces during World War II, Japan was directly admitting that all soldiers "need" sex and must have it. Americans lined up at the "comfort stations," keeping the custom of the country by leaving their shoes at the door and paying just over a penny a visit.
The question raised in these examples is the distance between rape and prostitution. In war or peace, that distance is not great. The Council for Prostitution Alternatives in Portland, Ore., believes that "prostitution is bought and sold rape."
Usually, women enter prostitution as a result of recruitment, pimping, abduction, extreme abuse and trauma, deception and poverty, or a combination of these factors. No matter how they got there, most women in prostitution cannot leave without organizational and financial support.
The incident in Okinawa captured world attention because it was bound up with Okinawan outrage at the 50-year American military occupation of the island and because the victim was a 12-year-old. But what if the three servicemen had paid an older girl who presumably was "willing"? In some countries, the criminal justice system punishes those who buy and sell sex from a juvenile. Once a girl becomes a woman, she is the one who is punished by the same system.
Surely, the question is not why women are in prostitution, but why so many men buy women and children in prostitution.
The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women works internationally to combat sexual exploitation in all its forms, especially prostitution. We believe that prostitution is a human rights violation and that governments have a responsibility to decriminalize the victims and punish the pimps, traffickers and customers.
Prostitution is sexual abuse. The Navy's stated policy of zero tolerance for sexual abuse, however, doesn't seem to apply to the Navy's tolerance of prostitution. The U.S. government should have a "zero tolerance" policy prohibiting all military personnel from buying or selling women and children for sex.
We cannot allow the exchange of money to transform "bought and sold rape" into consensual sex. Acknowledging that military prostitution--whether institutionalized or tolerated by governments, whether with adults or children--is a violation of a person's human rights would be a good place to start.