Bush, Military Take Decisive Action to Curb the Exploitation of Trafficked Women

Posted in United States | 22-Dec-03 | Author: Joseph Schmitz| Source: US House of Representatives

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Bush Administration has taken aggressive action to significantly expand and enhance efforts to fight human trafficking and ensure that the U.S. military does not engage in activity with women who are victims of human slavery, according to an investigative report released yesterday.

The report by the Pentagon’s Inspector General – the chief watchdog for the entire Department of Defense – follows an investigation launched in response to Congressman Chris Smith (R-Hamilton), a leading advocate for human rights in Congress and the prime author of the nation’s anti-trafficking law (PL 106-386).

Smith praised Bush for his exceedingly bold, effective, and comprehensive steps to protect our military from wittingly or unwittingly adding to the agony of trafficked women.

Smith requested the investigation after viewing a Fox News report in May 2002 in which undercover investigative reporters documented U.S. Soldiers stationed in Korea frequenting establishments where women trafficked from Russia, the Philippines, and elsewhere were forced to act as sex workers. The servicemen caught on camera expressed familiarity with the procedures used by traffickers and knew that the women were brought into Korea through force, fraud, or coercion and were being held against their will.

In a letter to Smith, Pentagon Inspector General Joseph Schmitz thanked Smith for raising the issue and said his interest “was instrumental in accelerating DoD efforts to combat human trafficking in Korea.” In South Korea alone, there are now more than 660 establishments declared off limits to the 37,000 U.S. military personnel in Korea, either because they enslave women or are houses of prostitution. The report on South Korea was Phase 1 of the Administration’s efforts; Phase II will include Bosnia and the Balkans.

“I am pleased that the investigation I requested has pushed every branch of the armed services to review their existing policies pertaining to human trafficking and significantly improve counter-trafficking efforts in areas where they were found to be deficient,” Smith said.

“Ever since my trafficking legislation was signed into law more than two years ago, the U.S. has successfully persuaded much of the international community to increase their efforts in prosecuting trafficking rings and aiding the victims – most of whom are women and children – of this barbaric crime. As such, we have an obligation to lead by example; and it is imperative that our soldiers do their part in helping us eradicate the scourge of human slavery,” Smith added.

The IG’s report detailed several improvements made by the United States Forces Korea (USFK) since Smith requested the investigation in May 2002. The changes include:
  • Placing more than 660 establishments suspected of involvement in human trafficking or prostitution off-limits to the 37,000 U.S. military personnel stationed in South Korea. Also, USFK is giving commanders information and authority they need to place additional establishments off limits.

  • Better education of servicemembers about human trafficking, our government’s laws against trafficking, and of their requirement to conduct themselves in exemplary fashion while serving their country.

  • Improving and strengthening relations and contacts with the Korean National Police (KNP) to investigate instances of prostitution and trafficking in areas near U.S. military bases.

  • Improving living conditions and recreational options on military bases so personnel would not visit suspect establishments in the first place.
USFK has also taken measures to ensure Military Police (MPs) and Courtesy Patrol officers pay closer
attention to establishments that may be using trafficked women. Fox News documented what the IG found to be “overly familiar” relationships between CPs and MPs and bar owners and staff that “included behaviors that are more representative of friendship than of the demeanor that denotes being an official on duty.”

“I am pleased that the military has taken significant actions to halt servicemembers’ contact with trafficked women, thus reducing the demand and helping to stop the cruel exploitation of vulnerable women and children. I am also encouraged that our military and South Korean police are working hard together to arrest and prosecute traffickers and set these women free,” Smith said.

“I will now work to ensure that the DoD continues to aggressively implement its counter-trafficking measures to ensure U.S. Servicemembers play no role, either intentional or unintentional, in human trafficking rings,” he added..

An additional report, on the trafficking situation among U.S. soldiers stationed in the Balkans (Phase II of the investigation) will be sent to Smith upon its completion, Schmitz said.