War and Sex


War and Sex
by Suki Falconberg, Ph.D., a former prostitute

In all of the massive, ongoing coverage of the war in Iraq, one huge issue is left out, the sexual behavior of our troops. Recent coverage of the trafficking of Iraqi girls into brothels by gangs and pimps (Time, April 23) does not mention whether U.S. and British soldiers are their customers.

Iraq is like Vietnam in this respect. Silenced women suffering sexual brutalization. During that war, gang rape in the villages and the forcing of half a million hungry girls into prostitution to service our men was the picture, and we never heard about it. A tacit conspiracy on the part of the media to keep all this dirt’ from impinging on the attention of the decent,’ privileged girls back home? (Sources for Vietnam material: Historian Arlene Eisen and my own conversations with Vietnam vets over a period of thirty years.)

An American woman reporter for U.S. News & World Report suggested that prisoners were being tortured in Iraq because our soldiers didn’t have reliable brothels where they could let off steam…


 (I wonder, what is a reliable brothel? One where the women make no protest, no matter what is done to them?) Inmates in these places, violated over and over again, often by men who are drunk and rough, have it far worse than those prisoners. (A related issue: Are women being trafficked into Guantanamo Bay, for our soldiers? If so, why is no one protesting their mistreatment?)

Since Iraqi soldiers could not use their own women, for religious reasons, as prostitutes, Saddam Hussein trafficked in girls from Thailand and elsewhere to service his men. (Source: Human Rights Watch.) Where are these Thai girls now, those who survived the assault of Hussein’s army? Have they been transferred over, for use by the Americans and the Britishin the same way that Korean Comfort Women were recycled for sexual use by our troops after WWII? (A related question: Is Hussein being prosecuted for this trafficking?)

A New York Times article mentioned whorehouses in Basra. Are these being frequented by our men?

Filipinos are working on military bases in Iraq (source: Frontline). Have Filipina girls been trafficked in for sexual use?

I would like to know if vulnerable Iraqi women and girls are being trafficked/prostituted/brothelized for our soldiers? I would also like to know if girls are being brought in from countries with histories of exporting their women’s bodies for sex– like Thailand. If so, I would like to believe that our men are trying to help these sexually brutalized women, rather than adding to their misery. But I’m not too optimistic. Since the end of WWII, American soldiers have been among the largest consumers of exploited women and girls. Korean Comfort Women, sexually imprisoned by the Japanese, were not the only victims of the Second World War. In Tokyo, as soon as our men landed in August l945, destitute, homeless, and unprotected girls were rounded up and forced into Comfort Stations’ by both the Japanese and American authorities. Most of these Occupation Comfort Women’ were teenage girls, and most were virgins. They were forced to service anywhere from 15 to 60 American soldiers a day. One dispassionate official’s report describes a girl that 50 soldiers lined up to use as busy, as if she were baking a cake or doing her homework.

When the girls tired to escape, they were pushed back into the brothels by our Military Police. Even when they cried and showed how terrified they were, the American boys still used them. Some were raped into unconsciousness. The conditions were so unbearable that some girls committed suicide. (Sources for Occupation Comfort Girl material: Historians John Dower, George Hicks, and Yuki Tanaka.)

During the Vietnam War, Thai and Okinawan girls were also sold to our men. The current multi-billion dollar sex industry in Thailand grew out of the heavy demand for flesh from our soldiers taking R & R in that country. In fact, Patpong, with its now famous fuck-and-pussy shows, blow-job clubs, and bargirl prostitutes, was started by enterprising ex-U.S. servicemen, imposing a Western style of sex-for-sale on the Thai culture.

In Let the Good Times Roll, a book of interviews with Asian women and girls prostituted to the U.S. military, one Okinawan girl who saw heavy use under our soldiers on R &R during the Vietnam War recounts how, even many years later, she can find no peace from nightmares of mass rape by soldiers. Rape’ was how she saw her experience, of having to lie down under 20 or 30 men a day. As would any woman, not just those of us conveniently labeled whores’ for our army.

A girl trafficked into a Kosovo brothel begged American military men to help her escape, but they refused because they wanted to use her, too. (Source: Amnesty International.)

I have a solution: Educate our men about the misery of the women they use in brothels–although the soldiers may not realize it, many have been trafficked into these places which they frequent (Woman, Child for Sale). Consequently, the inmates are held in debt bondage, controlled by pimps, and beaten to make them compliant and to make them perform. Even if trafficking is not involved, other economic and cultural circumstances have led to the girl’s exploitation. Instead of further hurting these already damaged females, our soldiers should try to help them. That would be a truly honorable’ soldierly act.

Educating the customers in compassion has to be a prime part of the campaign to end sexual exploitation. Men are not monsters (at least, not all the time). They can learn to protect instead of exploit.

It has always puzzled me, how the sexual exploitation of women abroad, by my soldiers, protects my freedom here at home. It doesn’t. It erodes it, by teaching callousness toward women’s bodies and that we can be used, as objects, without gentleness. Thirty years ago, I was gang raped by men who had raped in Vietnam. They had a lot of practice over there, and then came back and used my body as their rape playground. After the attack, I ended up in prostitution, near a military base, because I felt I was a piece of public garbage, fit only for more rape by men.

One thing that I garnered from talking to Vietnam vets about rape was how easy it was because the women were so small and fragile. Since Asian woman are about the size of ten-year-olds, it didn’t take much to overpower them. It has always haunted me, how badly torn up these girls must have been due to their smallness. (It must have been like raping children.) I’m a medium-sized Caucasian woman and my attackers, all pretty big Caucasian males, almost killed me.

What’s needed in media coverage of trafficking and enforced prostitution is more input from a sexually brutalized body, like mine, in order to make readers and viewers experience the full horror and sadness of all this. I can describe, in detail, what it is like to have the most intimate part of your body constantly violated. Forced serial penetration of the vagina is beyond miserable: just the physical damage to the opening, when it tears, feels like applying fire to a cut. Your genitals swell and bruise, you become raw inside, too, and everything hurtsyour bladder, your rectum, your womb, and your breasts and hip bones because of the weight of the men. Deep disgust, at being used by strangers, is also part of the process.

The long-term damage to the mind and the spirit cannot be put into words.

The customers’ are the greatest puzzle. In Japan, did the American soldiers not see the terrible damage they were doing to that girl that 50 of them all lined up to use? They must have seen the misery in her eyes (if she was still conscious). Didn’t they see the tremendous damage to her body and spirit? To her soul?

Or did they just make dirty jokes, as they waited in line?

Recently the Pacific Marines have issued statements about prosecuting men for using prostitutes, anywhere in the world. Although this is certainly a promising idea, I would be curious to see if it could ever be enforced. The Military Code of Honor already forbids the buying of prostituted bodies, but it has been completely ignored. One soldier I talked to when I lived in Japan called it a joke.’

When the U.S. Fleet visits Thailand, something like 10,000 women and girls are trafficked in, to service their needs. Many of these prostitutes are controlled by pimps, and roughly one third are underage. (Source: Patpong Sisters.) Do we arrest the entire navy? Do we arrest a third of them for statutory rape? There would be no one left to run the ships.

A shift in attitudeis it possible? Tailhook. Strippers and prostitutes were also at the convention, but not one article I have read on this incident draws any connections between the way the men treated these for sale’ women and the sexual barrage they subjected the female soldiers to. Probably, the sexually available’ women were treated more roughly, and with less respect, than the good’ girls, but we hear nothing of their stories.

Women are all the same. There is something so fundamentally wrong about dividing the women of the world up into the pure’ and the protected’ versus those of us who have been dumped in the camp of the sexually brutalized. This division, into good’ girls and bad’ girls, pure’ virgins and dirty’ whores, degrades all of us, just as the rape and degradation of any female body threatens all of us. As long as military men think they can buy women’s bodies, no woman will be accorded any respect. When I was growing up on army bases, it amazed me how the good’ military wives and daughters held the same coarse and cruel attitudes as the men; they referred to prostitutes as the filth outside the gate’ and had no compassion or understanding for the destitution or social or cultural circumstances which may have led them to sell their bodies.

On the hopeful side, it is amazing that the U.S. Military is finally recognizing that prostitution exploits and damages women and girls. It took them a while (a few centuries) but, as a girl who grew up on military bases, where it was simply considered the norm for soldiers to use what was called the ‘filth outside the gate,’ I find all this pretty remarkable. Moving from the view that cheap bodies for sale is a necessary and harmless’ recreational outlet for the troops to actually considering that those bodies have a humanity is a big step for the military mind.

International law is now defining the forced, non-consensual sex we find in most forms of prostitution as rape. It is now recognized that if any women, girl, or child is coerced, held against her will, forced to take customers without her consent, this is rape. (Source: Amnesty International.) It has always seemed to me that one-time rape, which we have paid some attention to, pales almost into insignificance beside the ongoing violation that forced prostitution takes. Although it is amazing that it took international law so long to even notice this most dreadful form of rape, this step still needs to be celebrated.

Another consideration is that, despite certain depredations, like the Kosovo, Vietnam, and Tokyo ones mentioned above, our soldiers often treat prostituted women far better than do most other armies. One reason for this, of course, is that American men accord some respect to their own women at homeand they sometimes carry this over into their attitudes toward prostitutes abroad. If these women are not sold to our men, they may have to service armies who will treat them with far more brutality than ours do. (My main source for the information in this paragraph is soldiers I have known and talked to over a period of thirty years.)

Another step in the right direction that I can suggest: Every time a high-profile woman like Condoleezza Rice visits any place our troops are stationed, or any place they land for R & R, she should also visit the brothels that service our men. She should talk to the women and girls, ask them about their lives, see if they can be helped rather than ravaged by more sexual mistreatment.

Hilary Clinton should take a world-wide trip with the specific purpose of visiting the brothelized, the trafficked, the sexually enslaved. She could call enormous attention to their plight. Would that I had her power to make the world notice the soft and the ravaged. As a former prostitute, I know that we are scorned as filth’ and considered disposable.’ If high-profile women would accord us some importance and humanity, consider our lives worthy of notice, maybe others would not be so quick to despise us. I know that once you are in the camp of the brutalized and sexually mistreated, escape is practically impossible. World-wide, there is too much cultural barbed wire keeping you in that prison, blaming you for your own rape/prostitution. A recent Frontline show on Sex Slaves said that trafficked girls who manage to escape, return home, are shamed by their experience, turned into village whores

I wonder if the media overlooks the sexual brutalization of our bodies because they consider the topic dirty.’ Such, for example, was the reaction of the Japanese press when the Korean Comfort Girls finally told their stories of sexual enslavement by the Japanese military. (I use girls’ rather than women’ because most were teenagers when they were held and raped continuously.)

Are the 400,000 women of Bangladesh who were held in rape camps by the Pakistani military over thirty years ago still considered too dirty’ for their stories to be told? It seems that this attitude still blankets the worldthe raped woman must live in shame because of what was done to her body; the world media glance the other way because the topic is dirty.’ Look at me. I live in a country where I have some small measure of recourse if I am violated. Yet it has taken me thirty years to find the inner courage to speak about my experiences, such has been the cultural imposition of shame upon me. And I write each word with fearfear that I will be hurt again, for daring to speak. Fear that I will lose my job because I was once a prostitutethat word of hardness that hammers all the sexuality out of us, with its heavy connotations of shame, filth, etc.

There is a Jacobean play in which two girls are mass raped by an army. Their uncle blames them and says, You should have kept your legs together. Great adviceexcept that so many men are forcing them apart.

When I try to speak up for the prostitute, I feel as if I stand alone. No one seems to care. Hide your raped body, Suki. It is too dirty’ to be defended, spoken for, even noticed.

I wish that some of the news accounts of Darfur would point out that Sudanese women are subjected to Female Genital Mutilation and that this makes rape all the more devastating. These poor women can barely handle any kind of ‘normal’ intercourse, given this ‘cultural’ damage to their organs, let along the violence of rape. When will this be in the forefront of women’s concernsrather than the latest Kama Sutra position in Cosmopolitan? (This is not to condemn the joys of the Kama Sutra or the pleasure that this magazine believes is our sexual birthright, merely to say that, as Western, privileged women, we hold a tenuous grasp upon out own sexual freedom if so many other female bodies are being enslaved.) When will the liberal media devote more than a few inches of space, every few months, to the ongoing misery inflicted on our bodies? When will it write long stories about the children fathered by UN Peacekeepers on prostituted bodies? (No peace for the ravaged.) Or notice the masses of Amerasian street children recycled into the prostitution their mothers had to undertake, to eat? When will it seek out and listen to the stories of the refugee girls that were conscripted’ and sold for $2 a lay in tent brothels across Vietnam because the soldier at war must have his fuck,’ as one vet said so eloquently said to me.

I know from my own violation that a woman does not choose sex with large numbers of strangers as a way of life if she can escape. The degradation of this experience is tremendous. Sadly, the suffering of female bodies is rarely noted in the official accounts of warobviously deemed of little importance, since war is told only from the point of view of the hard male, with his weapons. The soft raped/prostituted woman is, apparently, negligible. Is there any room in the media for the point of view of those of us who are tremendously damaged by this kind of sex at its most terrible, without tenderness?

From the pathetic Occupation Comfort Girls handed over to our troops in Tokyo after WWII to the destitute camptown girls of Korea and the starving tent-brothel whores of Vietnam, it is all the same picture. Occupying armies occupying the bodies of subjugated, conquered women. Men make war; women suffer its savage sexual consequences.

I don’t have any solutions for suffering. I live inside a brothel/rape hell which is the everyday prison of my body. For temporary comfort, I write. To release, to forget, and to remember. And I watch pigeons. Because they are humble, and at peace with themselves. They calm me down, with their quiet ways. And I give my suffering to the mountains where I live. They tell me that they’re big enough to withstand it, and that my helpless, fragile female body can rest, at least for a little while–from the pain.

I would like to see a Tomb for the Unknown Prostitute, and a Monument to the Forgotten Raped Woman. It’s time their voices (and mine) were heard.

© Suki Falconberg, Ph.D., 2006

A word about terminology: I use the word prostitute’ or prostituted woman’ instead of sex worker’ because it seems ludicrous to me to term, say, a ten-year-old in a Cambodian brothel as a sex worker.’ Not just ludicrous but callous and cruel, considering the rape that is being done to her body and life. Yet this is the phrase that is in vogueno matter how brutal the sexual enslavement of the woman, girl, or child, writers are imposing the phrase sex worker’ on the victimized. Enforced prostitution is not work’ in any meaningful sense of the word. To put sex’ before work’ demeans the word work’ as well. That word should connote a fulfilling activity which adds beauty and compassion to life, not one which destroys a girl’s body and spirit.


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