This article is courtesy of Soldier of
Fortune, a military/adventure publication.
The magazine specializes in first-person reporting
from armed conflicts around the globe, with
emphasis on current military activities, developments,
special units, weapons, tactics, politics
and history. Its writers include experienced
professionals, including former military and
frequent Soldier of Fortune readers.
Hong Kong: loud, decadent, exotic, dazzling day and night with flashing, brilliant, multicolored lights. Quite a contrast from Paris -- the serene, romantic city of warmth, hope and dreams that I had just left. Hong Kong's streets were lined with makeshift shelters used to sell meager goods by day, and as shelters by night for some of the million Chinese who had escaped the tyranny of the Communist regime on the mainland.
The ex-pat community and the elite Hong Kong Chinese, on the other hand, had built multi-million-dollar empires that were symbolized by high-rises, skyscrapers, mansions with servants, luxury Chinese junks and decadent lifestyles. East had met West, the self-indulgent nouveau-riche living side-by-side with the impoverished homeless in the most exciting, free-spirited British colony on the planet.
I was studying International Law at Hong Kong University and interning with a Chinese law firm that consisted of some 20 male Chinese lawyers. On Thursday nights, my Chinese attorney hosts would invite me to their clubs, for a "man's" night out, where we would play Mahjongg until the wee hours of the morning after having been fed feasts fit for royalty. During the course of the evening, delicately beautiful Chinese girls would circulate until each of the men decided which of the "hostesses" he was to spend the night with. Dressed in elegant native Chinese evening gowns, the girls floated around naturally with all of the arrogance of fairytale princesses until they had been chosen by their prince. Not ready for this new lifestyle, I would graciously excuse myself when it was time for the men to take their prizes to their rooms, and my hosts would provide a limo that would take me home. I didn't dwell on the routine, which I soon learned was commonplace with foreign businessmen as well, and the thought never hit me as to the youth of the girls since I was nearly their age, two decades younger than my hosts. I just figured: different culture, a different lifestyle.
I had met a most jovial, gracious and boisterous Australian journalist for the Reader's Digest who took me regularly to the lively Foreign Press Club on Ice House Street and introduced me to members of the ex-pat community. He was inseparable from his even more boisterous, heavy-drinking, opium-appreciating Chinese buddy, the son of a Chinese warlord who had escaped the Mao massacres. The two bragged about going to Bangkok for the weekend because the son of the warlord liked "little girls." I didn't realize until I had seen the war lord's son in Bangkok with the same U.S. Colonel friend he had partied with in Hong Kong a few years later that the "little girls" that they went to "play with" were merely adolescents.
My career subsequently carried me to the transitioning Russia, Poland, Hungary, the Middle East and the violently disintegrating Yugoslavia. In the former Eastern Bloc, especially in Budapest, the streets were swarming with scantily dressed, largely young and often breathtakingly beautiful hookers. Any Westerner could have had their choice among many who desired to escape their poor, hopeless existence. Occasionally, I would notice with some humor an old man being hustled by a young prostitute or with some embarrassment catch a glimpse of an old man pawing a young girl as he took the elevator up to his hotel room.
East Indian girl holds sign condemning child prostitution, in
Calcutta rally by school children and social workers to heighten
awareness of problem of child prostitution, during International
Anti-Child Labor day.
When in Bosnia, I was chatting with some MPRI (Military Professional Resources, Inc.) retired officers training the new army and integrating Croatian and Bosnian military units into a national army. One retired Colonel told me of the abuses by peacekeepers, specifically relating an incident in which he had met three peacekeepers in Cambodia who had purchased a 13-year-old Cambodian virgin to service the three of them during the one-year tour of duty.
"She told me that the oral sex was better, since it wasn't so painful," he said.
Wherever the soldiers and the peacekeepers were, the girls flocked, with their short, tight skirts and exposed chests. Whether in the war-torn Bosnia, in Kosovo, or in peaceful Panama, the soldiers had their pick of what appeared to me a lot of willing players.
As I began to recognize more and more the plight of many of the innocents in the sex trade, I began to do my share by giving an occasional lecture in my international law class or by convincing Soldier of Fortune not to run any more "Mail-Order Bride" ads, as I believed that the industry was shady, to say the least.
Recently, I was at an open-house in a penthouse suite in the Mirage in Las Vegas, hosted by a manufacturer of M-4 accessories for the special operations community. A Filipino present, who worked with the peacekeepers deployed to the Philippines, asked me bluntly: "You write about the rights of thugs like terrorists in your military tribunal articles and write with some distaste about the treatments of terrorists who are tortured. Why have you not written about a large group of helpless victims and their rights?"
In the Philippines, as in India, Cambodia, and other impoverished countries, he told me, many families sell their daughters for $350. That sum supports the families for one year.
"Or how about the U.S. executive who, after he had been killed in a plane wreck, had his estate sued by a group of Asian girls, [each of whom] he had gotten pregnant. During his business trip, the executive would round-up teenage virgins, get them pregnant and take off." In his warped world, the man believed he was propagating whatever his greatness was.
Nothing had prepared me for even a glimpse into that unimaginable hell that the sexual slavery trade has become.
With all the trappings of a horror show -- a cast of players that span from corrupt government officials, to slimy underground characters, to the most vulnerable victims, to zealous human rights workers on the other hand -- the trafficking in women and children for sex has reached nightmare proportions. Add desperate, poverty-stricken family members, lecherous and greedy recruiting agents, and reckless or perverted clients in pursuit of cut-rate pleasure, and the outcome is appalling and tragic.
As the gap between the rich and poor widens, criminal mafias in Russia and Eastern Europe, Asia and throughout the world operate without constraints across transparent borders. Accelerating international trade, booming and uncontrolled Internet and media pornography and ever-increasing tourism pave a fertile path for what is becoming one of the world's most profitable traded commodities -- women and child prostitutes.
Readily available pornography, erotic phone calls, call-girls and hostesses, sexually provocative shows -- strip-tease or sex-shows -- mail-order brides, street prostitution, brothels, massage parlors, enclaves of displaced soldiers or migrant workers have created the demand and supply for an estimated 4 million women and children trafficked internationally yearly. Skyrocketing profits exceeding 7 billion dollars a year according to UN statistics, and a staggering 12 billion according to the International Organization for Migration estimates. And those statistics only reflect reported figures in an industry that is largely underground and invisible.
As international tourism is vital for economic growth, many governments, aware that the most marketable commodity is their subjects' bodies, promote the growth to epic proportions, of prostitution, sex tours, brothels, and massage parlors. Corrupt government officials satisfy both their physical lust as well as their greed by exploiting and expediting the sale of those whom they are self-appointed or elected to protect.
"The oldest profession on earth" has evolved into one that is a virtual slavery, savagely forced upon its laborers. As profits soar, and the killer AIDS reaches epidemic proportions, the forced laborers are getting younger, some only five years old.
"This is happening wherever you look now," said Michael Platzer, the Vienna, Austria-based head of operations for the U.N.'s Center for International Crime Prevention. "The Mafia is not stupid. There is less law enforcement since the Soviet Union fell apart and more freedom of movement. The earnings are incredible. The overhead is low -- you don't have to buy cars and guns. Drugs you sell once and they are gone. Women can earn money for a long time."
Cambodian policeman escorts 11-year-old Vietnamese girl from
brothel in Toul Kork red-light district of Phnom Penh: Six girls from
11-13 years of age were rescued from brothel that offered only
young children. Trafficked from Vietnam, children were rescued during
sting operation involving Cambodian Interpol and local police,
led by End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking (ECPAT).
"Also," he added, "the laws help the gangsters. Prostitution is semi-legal in many places and that makes enforcement tricky. In most cases punishment is very light.
In some countries, Israel among them, there is not even a specific law against the sale of human beings." In some countries, such as in Africa, there are actual markets where women are sold in the streets for $400-$800.
"Think about this," he said, "200 million people are victims of contemporary forms of slavery. Most aren't prostitutes, of course, but children in sweatshops, domestic workers, migrants. During four centuries, 12 million people were believed to be involved in the slave trade between Africa and the New World. The 200 million -- and many of course are women who are trafficked for sex -- is a current figure. It's happening now. Today."
Not only is sexual slavery rampant in the Western world, but westerners promote its growth abroad. Men seek thrills that might be illegal in their own countries. "If you want extremely young girls, or generally speaking, if you want something for which you could get 'hanged' in your own country, you can find it in these places without the risk of getting hanged. You can expect a nod of the head, the Asian clasp of the hands, all accompanied by a 'thank you.' " (Excerpts from Third World Movement Against Exploitation of Women.)
Or, even more disgusting, men are encouraged to do good deeds: As a German tourist brochure boasted: "When you screw here, you may not do it for Germany but you certainly do it for the welfare of Kenya."
In a five-year study conducted by the NGO End Child Prostitution in Asia (ECPAT), data compiled for the 160 foreign males who were arrested by the police forces of Asian countries because of sex abuse against prostitute minors revealed these countries of origin: 40 abusers from the U.S.A., 28 from Germany, 22 from Australia, 19 from the U.K., 10 from France; Japan, Canada, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Belgium, Holland, Spain, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa were also on the list.
Don't Desecrate My Buddah
In Bangkok's infamous Patpong district, an Australian paid for sex with two sisters -- one 12 and the other six. The pimp who had purchased the girls from their parents took them to the tourist's hotel room, where they were abused and photographed for months.
A photo-shop owner developed one of the tourist's photos that displayed a tiny gold Buddha inserted in the older girl's vagina. Outraged, the shop-owner sent the picture to Sanphasit Koompraphant, Director of the Center to Protect Children's Rights, a local children's rights group. "The owner did not anger because a child was treated so cruelly," Koompraphant says, "but because his Buddhist religion had been insulted. He probably would not notice another object used that way." Betty Rogers recounts the story in a special report "Bitter Harvest."
A Fevered Priest
Pia Agustin Corvera's aunt sold her from the age of nine in the slums of Manila for 120 pesos -- $3 -- for each encounter. At the age of 12, she was sold to a visiting German pedophile. At 16, Pia was under the protection of a center run by a 57-year-old Irish priest, the Rev. Shay Cullen. The tiny Filipino girl told a journalist of her experiences: "I felt like garbage."
Pia's abuser was one of the few who was convicted. After he jumped bail in Manila and fled back to Germany, the priest and Pia went to Germany to testify, and the pedophile received a 3-1/2-year jail sentence.
Cullen's obsession to help exploited children was launched in 1982 when he met nine, 12- and 13-year-olds with venereal disease in a local health clinic run by nuns. "The kids said they had been used by American sailors, but the naval authorities told us to keep quiet so they could catch the perpetrators," Cullen told one reporter. But in dozens of cases, he charges, the Navy shipped-out suspects to avoid prosecution.
Filipino children, victims of child prostitution, wait to testify before
Philippine Congressional committee on child prostitution and
human rights, as 200 street children rallied, in a downpour outside,
Olongapo, former home of the huge U.S. naval base at Subic Bay, and Angeles City, near the former U.S. Air Force base at Clark Field, accommodated U.S. service personnel's sexual demands. Cullen's problems were hardly over after the U.S. military departed in 1992, however, as Filipino pimps turned Angeles and Olongapo into two of the Pacific region's most "rancid fleshpots."
The 10-year war in Vietnam contributed to the explosion of a sex industry outside the bases. Bangkok became a major center for Rest and Recreation (R & R) leave, commonly known the by GIs as I & I (Intoxication and Intercourse). Authorities passed legislation to aid the sex business and "support the boys," such as the Entertainment Act, which included a policy called "Hired Wife Services." By the mid-70s there were 800,000 prostituted Thai women. When the war ended, the Thai government, accustomed to the high profits, promoted sex-tour travel agencies established by a group of high-ranking Thai military generals' wives. From 1965 to 1993, the number of tourists grew from 250,000 to over 5 million.
And, adds Sister Sol Perpinan of Third World Movement Against Exploitation of Women, it is estimated that by the mid-80s the sex industries around the bases in the Philippines had generated more than $500 million. At the end of the war in Vietnam, Saigon had 500,000 prostituted women -- equal to the population of Saigon before the war.
The Myth Of The Virgin
As Interpol's Agnes Fournier de Saint Maur, who tracks global child sex trends, says, the demand comes not only from pedophiles but from individuals "eager to push the envelope of carnal exploration."
Virgins are in great demand among Chinese from Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong, Michael Satchell, writes in an extensive article on the topic in Preda. Chinese men prize sexual intercourse with young girls for the rejuvenating properties they believe to be associated with the act. According to O'Grady, "there are surprisingly large number of aging and wealthy Chinese businessmen who believe that they must deflower a virgin at least once a year to gain the energy needed to be successful in their business enterprise and have a long life".
In India, Devadasis, (handmaidens of God), are dedicated to the goddess Yelamma in secret ceremonies. Most of the girls brought into the Devadasi system will become human cargo in the sex traffic in cities like Bombay, where sex can be bought for less than the price of a bottle of beer. Hunger, poverty and superstition are the root causes of a practice which sees parents or relatives sell a daughter to a pimp or brothel for $150 to $200. The cult also entraps a handful of boys, known as Jogappas, who are made to become transvestite prostitutes.
UNICEF reports that there are 200,000 child prostitutes in Thailand, 400,000 in India, between 244,000 and 325,000 in the U.S., 35,000 in West Africa, and 100,000 in the Philippines, Taiwan and Brazil.
A frequent contributor to SOF, Dr. Martin Brass is an international lawyer.