“Singers in the Band” Human Trafficking, Sex and the United States Military

Singers-in-Band-300x225Promoting peace includes a process wherein existing inequities are exposed and with the exposure of those injustices, wrongs can be righted.  Exposing the inequities of sex trafficking and United States Army’s complicity is a thirty-year undertaking by filmmaker David Goodman. Mr. Goodman is an Academy Award winning documentarian working on a film which when released will document the link between the US military and human trafficking. It must be pointed out that the United States is not alone in this enterprise.

On March 15, 2014  the International Institute on Peace Education and the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders   hosted a screening and symposium on military sex trafficking.  Mr. Goodman’s film “Singers in the Band” provided the springboard for a discussion led by peace and human rights experts on civil society’s responses to address and eradicate this violation of the human rights of women. The panel consisted of Mr. Goodman, the filmmaker; Tony Jenkins of the International Institute on Peace Education and the Global Campaign for Peace Education; Rabbi Jon Cutler, Captain and Chaplain in the United States Navy and Naval Reserves; Amy Wright, retired Colonel of the United States Army and diplomat; and Mavic Cabrera-Ballega, the International Coordinator of the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders.

I would like to comment on the rough draft of the documentary, which I was privileged to view and which all interested parties should see when it is finally released. The film casts a spotlight on a worldwide problem with a long history. Just as during Japan’s occupation of Korea during World War II when the Japanese kidnapped Korean women to act as “comfort” women to its servicemen, Mr. Goodman’s film exposes the involvement of three modern day governments in the exploitation of women. The three governments are:  the United States, South Korea and the Philippines. Through the personal stories of young Pilipino women, Mr. Goodman is able to document how these women were duped into lives of prostitution by a South Korean “businessman.” These women auditioned for positions as singers and dancers in what they thought were entertainment clubs in South Korea. Mr. Goodman shows with undercover cameras and eye-witness accounts that the governments of the United States, South Korea and the Philippines are complicit in the trafficking of these women by either turning a blind eye or condoning the existence of the clubs which exist next to or near US Army bases in South Korea and worldwide.  In some cases the American troops “police” these “red light” districts.

Following the screening, Nitza Escalera, the Chair of Pasos Peace Museum welcomed the panelists, guests and Betty Reardon, an internationally acknowledged founder of peace education, gave the opening remarks.

Mr. Jenkins introduced the panelists and addressed the need to speak out about injustice.  Rabbi Cutler, a 23 year Captain in the Navy and presently a Naval reservist, spoke of the need to speak out for “if good men remain silent, then evil triumphs.”  The Rabbi joined the Navy after completing rabbinical studies.  He was sent to the Philippines to acculturate the Pilipino wives of American servicemen before they and their husbands returned to States.  He witnessed, as he put it, the hidden secret of the women “who had been prostituted.”  These were not the wives of the servicemen but the women who entertained the troops at the clubs, which were and are ubiquitous at American service bases around the world.  Many of these women, if not most, did not voluntarily become practitioners in the oldest profession on earth.  Present day sex slaves, like the young Pilipino girls in Mr. Goodman’s film, have their passports confiscated by their employers and many are not permitted to leave the club’s premises.  This is why Rabbi Cutler refers to these women not as prostitutes but “women who have been prostituted.”  Language and how we use language is very important.

Colonel Ann Wright, a retired Colonel with 29 years in the United States Army and Army Reserves spoke of the need to change the culture of the military where 26,000 reported assaults, by the military’s own numbers, occur each year. This number of assaults occurs in a force in which 14% is comprised of women – in effect, one out of every three women is assaulted in an average four to six year tour of duty. She also addressed the fact that our modern day army has privatized many of the services once performed in-house that is by the military itself. There are major US corporations, including KBR, DynCorp and others, which provide services such as military base operations and vehicle maintenance to our military personnel. These services and others are then sub-contracted and the employees of those companies are employed without the benefit and protection of US law. In many instances, as with the trafficked women, the employees of the contractors/sub-contractors have their passports confiscated. This is another form of human trafficking and is generally referred to as human slavery.

Mavic Cabrera-Ballega addressed the effects of military violence and, in particular, its impact on women.  Historically women have been activists against the business of war. Besides being activists against war she stressed the need for women to have a seat at the negotiating table when peace negotiations are held: without a woman’s presence at the table who will force governments to act in assisting women in conflict areas. In most instances women are not present at the negotiating table. Women must not be seen only as victims but as decision makers and must, therefore, have a seat at the table when discussions of restitution and reconciliation are held.    She specifically referred to UN Security Council Resolution 1325 [UNSCR 1325] wherein the resolution, in part, calls for inclusion of women in “security policy making in the belief that that exclusion is a significant factor in the perpetration of violence against women.” It is shocking to learn that 187 countries have ratified this document; the United States is not one of them. Ms. Cabrera-Ballega pointed out the fact that whereas in past conflicts 80% of the victims of war were the combatants themselves, in today’s world 80-90% of the victims are civilians of whom a large portion consists of women and children; they are what we euphemistically term “collateral damage.”

Ms. Cabrera-Ballega presented certain arguments about reframing how we look at “the business of war.” When we talk of peace and security we often-mean defense and the military. Security is then equated with military preparedness. In our quest for national security we are forever in a state of preparedness for war. In modern-day discussions of national security we have forgotten the human element; we should consider human security paramount to national security.  For what is national security if we humans are not secure in our lives and property? In modern day warfare, as stated above, civilians suffer the greatest loss in lives and property. We have removed the human element when we refer to civilian deaths and the destruction of the land as collateral damage. We have made the discussion of war palatable.  Instead of focusing on winning the war we should focus our energies on winning the peace. Winning the peace is a dauntless undertaking, which requires the presence and participation of men and women in all countries in all parts of the world. Should the conversation shift to human security and peace we would be forced to deal with those conditions, which give rise to civilization and its discontents.

Before the conclusion of the symposium the panelists took questions from those in attendance. It was agreed that there is a need to bring the issues of violence against women in the form of the trafficking of women to the attention of the greater public for as Professor Reardon stated ignorance leads to impunity — “when we don’t know, evil triumphs.” The movie, “Singers in the Band,” when it is released, will shed a much needed light upon this evil perpetrated against women. Perhaps then our fellow citizens and the US military will find the strength within themselves to deal with this injustice to women both within and without the services.

You can view a trailer for “Singers in the Band” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uzQbF5kwTUQ


By Siegrid Raible, Pasos Board Member

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