Over the last few years, Mobilization for Survival has worked to raise Americans' awareness about the global effects of American military involvement. In addition to overt and covert military intervention against the Pentagon's enemies, U.S. soldiers and sailors can have devastating effects on the people who are unlucky enough to have their government host our government's military bases.
Prostitution, a metaphor for American penetration and exploitation of the Third World, is an inevitable consequence of the clash of interests, wealth and cultures which results when American men join the Navy and see the world. On the Pacific Rim--rapidly develo ping as the world's newest industrial center--it is an old story.
In the city of Olongapo, Philippines, tropical beaches, clear Pacific waters, palm trees and beautiful women may seem like Eden to American sailors when they make port at nearby Subic Bay Naval Base. But for many young Filipinas, paradise is long gone. Not long ago, two 12-year-old girls were admitted to a hospital, their bodies covered with syphilitic sores. Over the next few days, local nuns found 15 children, aged 12 and up, suffering syphilis, gonorrhea, genital herpes and multiple beatings. All were part of the same prostitution ring, organized to satisfy the appetites of an American navy officer.
Municipal authorities would take no action, so Father Shay Cullen, an Irish priest who runs a drug rehabilitation center in Olongapo, went to the press. Eventually, the American officer was sentenced in Guam to a few months for rape. The Filipina procurer, a well-connected businesswoman, was never charged. And Father Cullen was threatened with deportation for bringing "the good name of the town in disrepute."
Olongapo depends on the U.S. base for its economic survival, as does Angeles, supplier to Clark Air Force Base 50 miles inland. The prostitution of many of their women and children is an integral part of the services of liberty towns.
Increasingly, the prostitutes are Amerasian, children of prostitutes caught in a cycle which transcends generations. As in other cities where "entertainment" is the biggest business, government and military authorities connive to encourage the flesh trade; its illegalities are protected by a blanket of community silence.
During the past year, the threat of AIDS has added to the emergency. Gabriela, a Philippine-wide women's coalition, raised the alarm when prostitutes in Olongapo and Angeles began to test positive for this deadly disease, which had been unknown in the Philippines. In addition to urging measures to protect the physical and economic well-being of the "hospitality girls," Gabriela is working with other groups to evict the U.S. bases from their country even before the Bases Agreement expires in 1991.
Vietnam War Legacy Although Thai women outnumber Thai men in Bangkok by 400,000, among tourists men outnumber women three to one. There have always been prostitutes in Bangkok, but the flesh industry didn't become big business until the Vietnam War, when Bangkok was a "rest and recreation" center for the American military. At the peak of the war, Bangkok's red l ight districts boasted hundreds of bars and 70,000 working women. By the time the Americans were defeated (leaving nearly half a million prostitutes in Saigon), too many Thai businesspeople were making too much money to allow the sex trade to die.
Over the past decade, organized sex tours from Europe, Japan and East Asia have replaced the soldiers. In addition to Bangkok's notorious Patpong district, holiday centers have arisen in the outlying cities of Phuket, Chengmai, and Pattaya. To meet the visitors' special demands, the kidnapping, sale and prostitution of very young girls and boys is rampant in Thailand. Most of the children are bought or lured from poor families in the north; some are Cambodian and Vietnamese refugees from border camps.
These horrors rarely reach the public eye. In 1984, a fire in Phuket's red light district killed five girls. They had been locked into their room, the two youngest chained to beds. When one mother came to claim her daughter's body, she admitted having sold her to a procurer for 6000 baht ($266). Her daughter had recently written her, begging to be "bought back" because she was being beaten and forced to take drugs.
Brothel owners take nearly all the earnings of these young girls as payback money for the price paid to the parents. The owners charge the girls for the rooms they are locked into and for every anti-VD shot.
Recently, increasing media publicity has embarrassed some police from other Bangkok precincts into localized crackdowns on forced prostitution. But the underground trade in children and teenage girls continues with police protection, according to activist Ms. Sudarat Sereewat. Writing in Prostitution: Survival of Slavery, she commented, "This is not just a simple sex trade; there are pimps torturing and locking up helpless young girls who barely receive enough money to survive. Child prostitution and forced prostitution are often inseparable, as children are easy to control and cheaper to buy."
Okinawa, south of Japan's main islands, is a much older example of a base economy. In 1970, after a quarter century of American occupation, officials counted 7362 prostitutes on Okinawa. More objective sources estimated the number at 15,000, one in every 20 women aged 15-60. According to official numbers, they earned over $50 million per year, surpassing Okinawa's export earnings for its two major crops, sugar and pineapple.
This money went to the procurers and bar owners; the women were perpetual debt slaves to the gangs who controlled the trade.
After Okinawa was returned to Japan in 1972, the situation improved somewhat, but prostitution continued to be the mainstay of the island economy, booming during the Vietnam war. There are still 30,000 American soldiers and civilians based in Okinawa, but developed Japan has been able to replace many of the Okinawan prostitutes with cheaper imports from the Philippines. In 1984 1560 Filipinas were licensed as "dancers." They make one-third of what a Japanese woman receives, and their passports are held by the bar owners, making escape impossible. It is clear that the biggest pimps are the local authorities.
Women Fight Back In the 1980s, Asian women began to organize themselves to fight their exploitation by local and foreign men. The Third World Movement Against the Exploitation of Women (TW-MAE-W) was established, led by Sister Mary Soledad Perpinan of the Philippines. When Japanese Prime Minister Suzuki toured Southeast Asia in 1981, TW-MAE-W organized protests throughout the region. They scored immediate success: Japanes e male tourism into Bangkok and Manila dropped 25%.
At the end of 1983, Sister Soledad set up STOP (Stop Trafficking in Filipinas), to carry information into rural Philippine communities, stimulate income-producing projects for rural women and pressure authorities who connive at trafficking. In February 1986 they were supported by President Corazon Aquino, who said at her first press conference, "I will do my best so that we will be able to provide jobs for our women...so they will not have to resort to this."
Opposition to military prostitution became worldwide with the formation of CAMPS (Campaign Against Military Prostitution) at the 1985 UN international Women's Conference in Nairobi. In addition to focusing on liberty ports in Japan and the Philippines, CAMP organizes in South Korea, Kenya, Spain, Honduras, Greece, Puerto Rico, Morocco and everywhere else foreign troops invade Third World populations.
The message is being carried further, with increasing educational and organizing pressure in countries which supply customers for the brothels. Here in the United States, activists are urging Congress to investigate the situation and pressuring government and military authorities to act to protect the health and welfare of the women who service their troops. Increasingly, however, people see the only permanent solution as two-fold: close the bases and provide other livelihoods for Third World women and children.
Campaign Against Military Prostitution (CAMP)
c/o Mutya A. Gener
240 E. 76 St. #53F
New York, NY 10021
PO Box SM 366
Electronic Osmosis by New York On-Line: (718) 852-2662 300/1200 Baud
From: New York On-Line A Radical Electronic Resource 1-718-852-2662
[Reprinted from the summer issue of the Mobilizer, the publication of the National Mobilization for Survival, 853 Broadway #418, NY NY 10003. Mobe has a campaign against foreign military bases you can join.]
By Halinah Todd
(Halinah Todd is a freelance journalist, formerly Features Editor of the New Straits Times (Malaysia) and voted Malaysia's Journalist of the Year in 1982. This article is adapted from Third World Network Features, a service of the Third World Network, a grouping of organizations and individuals involved in Third World and development issues. Contact,c/o Consumer's Association of Penang, 87 Cantonment Rd., Penang, Malaysia.)
Last modified 2005-02-12 12:02 AM