Sunday, January 20, 2013

How the US military and contractors fostered prostitution in Iraq

There's an interesting article on the role of the US military occupation in fostering a class of prostitutes in Iraq. I've long been interested in the plight of trafficked women and children for sexual slavery or pressures that excert on a population to increase rates of prostitution beyond normal social mores.

While the article is a little out of date (November 2007) it does point out that military occupations almost always lead to increases in prostitution. This of course isn't unique to the US and I've read before that Nigerian and Sri Lankan UN peace keepers often perpetuate prostitution as well. Prostitution is often seen near military bases (Angeles City outside of Manila, Philippines, is a notorious example). After discussing this article with several friends, they had these good points to say:

"[The author] seems to disproportionately bash the US (which she seems to have retained as a home country), even though this is a general pattern of war since time began and not specific to American wars in the 20th century. Her next target seems to be the private contractors, who really only differ from some previous wars by their nationality (the "engineer" in Miss Saigon was a local trafficker, but she doesn't seem as bothered by that) or that they are private contractors (een though mercenaries have also been the norm in warfare for most of history). In fact the right for a government to maintain a standing army in times of peace (1994 - 2001 [in the US] for example) should be even scarier.

"The Turks occupied Iraq far, far longer than the US is likely to, and they certainly weren't any more feminist in their pimping and trafficking, but they just didn't have mobile phones and English language journalists. And the rise of Dubai with the collapse of the Soviet Union also led to a spike in trafficking from the CIS to the Gulf, which in the past year or two economics has diverted to India.

"The trick is to make women well-off and traffickers poor -- which is the same in war or peace, America or the Ottoman Empire, whether the money is private or government [in source]."

Another friend notes: "It's one thing to investigate this issue during times of war, but far more concerning when it thrives during times of peace. The prosperous and politically stable Japanese are notorious for being the single largest consumers of the sex trade in Asia - even more than the money sex tourism generates in Thailand. In a book I read (also written by a British feminist), the author documented how Asian prostitutes prefer to 'do business' with Western men who treat them well compared to Chinese and Japanese men who engage in violent sexual acts leaving some women mutilated and handicapped."

The main point is that the sex trade will never cease and there is probably nothing inherrently wrong with it so long as it belongs in the scope of "a woman's right to choose." The problem lies in coersion, abuse, and trafficking.

For those concerned about the state of Iraqi collaborators and refugees following the US withdrawal fro Iraq next year, look at this report by Human Rights Change. They note that "As the American military drawdown in Iraq continues, the issue of protecting our Iraqi allies is at a critical stage. The List Project released an advocacy paper, Tragedy on the Horizon, which examines how the American withdrawal from Iraq will impact the thousands of Iraqis" currently collaborating with the US military occupation.

Like the point on the sex trade above, the issue is not that such retalitory actions haven't occurred in the past or occur elsewhere (all countries with large civil wars have faced such actions, with Sri Lanka [against Burghers], Vietnam [against South Vietnamese and in Laos against Hmong], Iraq [both present threats and in the past Saddam targeted the Kurds], etc.). The issue is that with the burden of history and knowledge on our backs, in this modern world, can't we do better now? Probably not though since lots of foreseeable and predictable tragedies occur following wars.