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US Lawmakers Demand "Immediate" Action from Navy Chief Over Alleged Naval Sex Trafficking Scandal

2020-08-03 - 9:00 p

Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): US lawmakers called on Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite to explain how the service is responding to allegations that US sailors were involved in the commercial sex trade in Bahrain.

"We request immediate information on the steps you have taken to remedy the deplorable circumstances in Bahrain, combat the broader culture that allowed these crimes to flourish, and ensure that justice is delivered to trafficking survivors and their family members," Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) wrote in a letter sent to Braithwaite on Tuesday, Military.com reported.

In the letter, the senators called on Braithwaite to explain how the Navy has improved anti-trafficking training after investigations by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) found that US sailors were housing prostitutes in their Bahrain apartments, seizing the women's passports, taking a portion of their earnings and profiting from a sex trade "that serviced shipmates who lived on the island or came ashore during port calls," as described by a June 16 Military Times report.

In the report, US soldiers are accused of housing and trafficking female prostitutes in Bahrain as early as June 2017. The report also says US sailors have been accused of perpetrating "brutal sexual assaults" against vulnerable women not only in Bahrain, but in other parts of the Middle East as well.

"Beyond the despicable crime that sailors were charged with, the underlying culture ... that has allowed prostitution in US Navy ports is shameful," the letter, obtained by Military.com, adds. "It is evident the Navy's zero tolerance policy against trafficking has not been effectively communicated to every echelon of commanders."

Commander Sarah Higgins, a spokesperson for Braithwaite, declined to comment on the senators' letter. "We won't comment on congressional correspondence," she said, Military.com reported.

In June, Vice Admiral Jim Malloy, the head of Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT), revealed that the Navy initiated an "awareness campaign" in 2018 that included training on ethics, character development and how to combat human trafficking.

"The goal of this campaign is to raise awareness of this issue, enforce Navy core values, and promote bystander intervention," Malloy said. "Working with our host nation, NAVCENT remains vigilant to both monitor for any recurrence and prevent such activity."

In response to the Military Times report, the Navy also banned US troops in Bahrain from going to certain locations such as bars and nightclubs, which were frequently visited by prostitutes. 

It's worth noting that earlier this year, US Navy officials also issued a training video to sailors that warned service members going to Bahrain about sex workers who may try to sell any information they retrieve regarding Navy personnel and their operations.

Information revealed that US Navy men were involved in trafficking Thai women to perform sexual acts for them.

A State Department report highlights such issues as it calls on Bahrain for greater proactive identification of victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups such as domestic workers, migrant workers and women engaged in prostitution.

However, Bahrain doesn't exert enough efforts to put an end to the exploitation of vulnerable groups.

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