This file photo shows women who are referred to as 'bar girls' in Bangkok waiting for customers. Sailors have not been completing mandatory human trafficking training, of which prostitution is a major topic of conversation. (Sam Yeh / AFP via Getty Images)
In 2005, a change in military law made it illegal for anyone in the military to patronize a prostitute — even where such businesses are legal.
Under those rules, sailors found guilty of the offense can get a dishonorable discharge, be forced to forfeit all pay and allowances and spend up to a year in jail. The Navy says it’s a serious offense with tough consequences and has mandatory training on the issue — training that less than half the fleet is getting.
The Defense Department requires 85 percent of those in the service to complete Combating Trafficking in Persons training, in place since 2010. The Navy says it’s mandatory for everyone. But when officials pulled the string early this year, they found only 43 percent had met the requirement.
Trafficking in humans involves about 2.5 million people worldwide being forced into various types of labor — about half into the sex industry, according to United Nations reports.
Confusion on 'critical' issue
The Navy’s low training-completion rate prompted officials to include it in the fleet’s mandatory annual general military training; previously, it was separate, “over and above” instruction.
Officials say that designation was due to confusion in the fleet on what training was mandatory and what was optional.
The training completion shortfall also prompted Vice Adm. Bill Moran, chief of naval personnel, to reinforce the requirement in a fleetwide message — NAVADMIN 239/13, released Sept. 16.
“In light of the critical nature of this GMT lesson, it is essential that leadership is involved in making members of their command aware of this topic and the annual requirement to complete the CTIP online training lesson,” he said in the message. “Commanding officers shall ensure CTIP GMT lessons are completed by all assigned personnel within each fiscal year.”
GMT lists the CTIP training topic as a Category 2 topic, meaning COs can decide whether to have an instructor teach the course or have sailors complete it via Navy Knowledge Online.
“Department of Defense policy is to oppose prostitution, forced labor, and any related activities that may contribute to the phenomenon of Trafficking In Persons as inherently harmful and dehumanizing,” according to the message. “TIP is a violation of U.S. law and internationally recognized human rights, and is incompatible with Navy Core Values.”
DoD distributed education materials to the services on human trafficking in 2004. The no-prostitution rule took effect the next year, and President George W. Bush signed a law in January 2006 that imposed harsh penalties on federal employees — up to 20 years in prison — for patronizing, assisting or not reporting trafficking efforts.
The training covers four basic areas: U.S. and Defense Department policy on human trafficking; the origins of the trafficking phenomenon; detection of trafficking; and legal provisions of trafficking. Officials say the online version can be completed in less than an hour.
In 2006, with the change in military law, officials said that clamping down on prostitution was key to efforts to combat human trafficking industry because most women involved in prostitution do so against their will.
The 2006 law requires DoD to incorporate anti-trafficking and protection measures in regions following armed conflicts and during humanitarian assistance operations, because studies had shown increased activity of human traffickers in both of these settings where the U.S. military often plays a major role.