Human trafficking training mandatory for overseas troops
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — If you take nothing else away from the military’s Trafficking in Persons training, remember this:
“No buying, selling or renting people,” said Yokosuka Seaman Nicole Katic.
She hears about human trafficking in every foreign port as a U.S. sailor with Navy’s 7th Fleet. And she has taken the 45-minute course mandated for all overseas personnel.
Some 450,000 servicemembers and civilians with the Defense Department had taken the online TIP course as of June, according to Maj. Stewart Upton, a spokesman for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs.
The course hits four major points: origins, detection, U.S. and DOD policies, and regulations governing human trafficking, he said.
The practice has been called “modern-day slavery” and is defined as the “recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion, for the purpose of subjecting that person to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.”
The State Department estimates 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked annually, with 80 percent of them women and girls — up to 50 percent are children — as of 2006. And the majority of transnational victims were trafficked into a growing, global commercial sex trade.
“Whether people realize it or not, most women involved in prostitution are there against their will,” said 7th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Ike Skelton.
“Even by going to a strip club or bar that is a front for prostitution supports the worldwide human trafficking industry. If you spend money there, you may be giving money to the traffickers, and traffickers are criminals.”
TIP training is a way of “looking our folks in the eyes and reminding them what behavior is acceptable and what is not,” Skelton said.
For the most part, servicemembers say the training is working.
Staff Sgt. Mark Freeman of the 374th Maintenance Squadron at Yokota Air Base, Japan said he went through the Web-based training several months ago.
He encountered a few real-life training scenarios during a Thailand stop on his way back from a recent deployment to Kuwait, he said.
“You run into a lot of those situations there,” Freeman said. “There’s not quite as many in Japan.”
He said he believes the training, if conducted periodically, can help guide servicemembers’ behavior outside the gates.
Sgt. Michael Mitchell, who organizes training for his battalion on Camp Kinser, Okinawa, said he thinks the training is helpful “especially for Marines deploying to places like Korea and the Philippines and Singapore.”
The class would have the most value if done as part of pre-deployment training, he added.
Seaman Benjamin Saylor, assigned to the USS Blue Ridge, said he’d like to see more situations presented in training that mirror the average servicemember experience.
“It makes it seem like the all the women are being held hostage,” Saylor said. “The reality is more like prostitutes at the bar.”
Stars and Stripes reporters Vince Little and Megan McCloskey contributed to this report.