September 21, 2009

The Wages of War: The Oldest Profession

author_sally By Sally Raskoff

The other day I heard from someone currently on active duty in the Army. During a discussion on the difficulties of overseas deployments in wartime, he mentioned that female soldiers often make extra money “servicing” their fellow soldiers (i.e., sexual services if you didn’t get my innuendo). He said that this was common knowledge and due to the fact that the deployments are long and there were so few available women, especially American women.

Are you shocked? Surprised?

Historically, there are usually prostitutes available where a military congregates whether they are provided by the local economies or by the sponsoring governments themselves. Rarely, however, are those selling their bodies also members of the active duty military. (For example, the Comfort Women of World War Two)


Whether or not my acquaintance is right about this phenomenon, the pressures of the situation – and the structure of the situation –could easily lead to this kind of prostitution.

After I was active duty (Air Force) and started taking college classes, I wrote most of my sociology class papers analyzing my experiences in the military. This was a few decades ago when women made up a smaller percentage of the armed forces, but today women are still a minority – less than 15% - of those on active duty.

At that time, it was very clear that a woman, no matter what her job skills, was considered “available” unless she was married. If a woman stayed single, the chances that she would develop a “reputation” were quite high. It didn’t matter if she was exploring her sexuality with one or many partners or if she was celibate, many colleagues saw all single women as fair game. A civilian parallel is the phenomenon that early developing girls are sometimes called “sluts” whether they are sexually active or not. (Leora Tanenbaum wrote a great book on this phenomenon called Slut! Growing up Female with a Bad Reputation.)

When I was in the military, the pressure to get married was intense, especially for those concerned about maintaining a good or professional reputation. The service also encouraged marriage as it made more stable soldiers even if those soldiers were married to each other. Married soldiers got paid more, better housing, more services and family support.

Anyway, back to what my friend was saying about female soldiers prostituting themselves.

When does prostitution occur? The research literature points out a number of patterns. The buyer buys sex when they can’t get it elsewhere or don’t want the encumbrances from getting it elsewhere. The seller sells sex when they have no other options.

Alienation exists in each case as each person is exchanging their body for cash, thus their body becomes an object and commodity rather than remain a personal subject of experience and emotion.

There is more prostitution in societies with greater gender inequality since the more powerful gender can exploit the less powerful in a variety of ways. When there is more gender equality, those in the different gender groups are considered more equal and thus there’s less exploitation based on perceived differences in value. Social interactions are much less likely to enter into the commercial arena where pricing and negotiation assume power differences and competition.

What is it like to be deployed, especially in today’s wars?

Isolating. Alienating. Fearful. One doesn’t know if one is going home intact or at all.

Many members of the military struggle with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and the suicide rate is higher in the military than it is for the general population. It often takes outside organizations to help soldiers deal with the conditions of their service, such as and Gold Star Families Speak Out, but those organizations are not meant for those currently deployed.

When you consider these unique stresses, is it surprising or shocking that an underground economy of sexual services emerges on overseas deployments, especially when outside purveyors of sexual services are not available in the areas to which these troops are deployed?

It’s not surprising at all when you consider: (1) single female soldiers face intense pressure to be socially and sexually active; (2) there are a minority of women compared to men thus there are not equal opportunities for heterosexual social interaction; (3) there is much inequality between women and men as men are more likely than women to have positions higher in the authority structure; (4) people are isolated from home, family, and even those in the host country; (5) they are in fear of their lives and may have no hope for their futures.


An additional factor has to do with the age of these soldiers; most are in their twenties, some older, some younger. For these generations, oral sex is not as taboo as it was for previous generations. In fact, to many in these generations (and some others), oral sex isn’t really considered sex. Rather, it is something friends may do in the absence of a steady partner. And yet oral sex is considered a form of sexual intercourse, particularly by the Centers for Disease Control, and one can spread sexually transmitted diseases through it.

If indeed some soldiers are making extra money by doing sexual favors for their colleagues, it can be explained by the structural demands of the overseas deployments.

If our military leaders wanted to decrease the chances of this happening, what could they do to ease the strain of these conditions and ensure an effective egalitarian military force?


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What is the basis for the statement "the seller sells sex when they have no other options"?

For instance, in Sudhir Venkatesh's study of prostitution in Chicago, he noted that on occasions like the 4th July holiday, "there is short-term substitution into prostitution by women who do not trade sex for money most of the year,"

It seems unlikely that their options suddenly disappeared on the 4th of July and returned immediately afterwards. It seems more likely that they were responding opportunistically to the increased demand.

Since there is a lack of local prostitution in Afghanistan and Iraq, it seems likely that the price of sex is relatively high. If so, the female soldiers would just be behaving in the economically rational way.

It could just be that the seller sells sex when the price of sex is high.

Poverty does things to people that not many other things can and that includes forcing people into prostitution. Everybody needs money and if the amount is extremely high, then it is likely that an extreme amount of people will attempt to obtain it, including those who might not need it as much as others. Such people may not sell themselves as often as the others only because it is not an occupation that they enjoy, but still at least once or twice a year they must sell themselves to make ends meet.

I’m truly shock the female soldiers are offering their bodies for the sexual needs of their comrades. I have seen prostitution in very corner of the different places I’ve travelled, but I never expected a woman from the military to be one of its “sellers.” When I have visited the Philippines I have witness many women engaging in sexual services to the men uniforms, but the women were always local girls. The local girls were “serving” the men in desperation of daily necessities that are often not gettable to poor countries. So, why do these female soldiers feel the need for payment? If they’re exploring their sexuality, why not do it for free? The female to male ratios in the military will not change and the pressures for women to marry will still be there. Maybe, the prostitution of female soldiers is new to this generation, but it might be a new trend that will stay here for generation.

I chose this article because I have family members that are in the military and have been to Iraq multiple times. They have confessed to having been with the local girls, but I have never heard them speaking of one their female soldiers. It’s interesting how they have never brought up sleeping with another soldier.

I am also shocked to know that female soldiers often offer sex services to their male soldiers. After we consider those five factors mentioned in the article, it’s not surprising about the phenomenon. From the article “Sex Runs Wild in U.S. Military” (, the followings are some words from the soldiers:
"We don't really have any other choice than to go to each other," said a male soldier.
"In past wars, they could go into town and there would be girls there or boys or whatever you want. Here, you can't really leave the base because you'll get killed." How to solve this problem is a tough question. My suggestion is to reduce the duration of military service for each soldier.


I certainly would of never guessed that this was happening in our military!! I just really cant believe it is still happening. As far as I know, women are not allowed on ship deployments, but maybe this has changed, and it is due to fear that something like this will happen. Prostitution of women in the military is certainly giving the US a bad image, and I feel that extreme measures need to be taken of need to be enforced further. It is shocking that some women find this okay and continue to sell themselves to other men. I do understand that poverty can results in the unthinkable, but I feel there are better ways to make money. It may be harder to make it, but there are other ways of making extra money without selling yourself.

I feel like there is immense pressure on the military women because they are such a minority. The military providing prostitutes for the men sounds wrong in many ways but it is to keep the military men stable.Men would probably go crazy with no kind of feminine figure around them and this can lead to gay sex, so this is why I believe they provide men with women while on duty.I know its hard for women in the military, but they can choose to be sexually active with other soldiers or not. But I feel like making more money in the military by selling yourself is crazy. I feel like thats total disrespect to the women because the government is convincing them that selling your body is good when it is not. Also there are consequences for joining the army and if you cant deal with the lack of women then you just shouldn't go because paying for sex isn't right.

I appreciate this article, and believe I understand it. The only pressing negative with this article, to me, is that it seems to be giving people in the military and excuse for the sexual happenings that go on within the Army.

I am a female veteran. I just cannot see this happening. I served with some of the greatest females I've ever known. Prostituting was not even a consideration. Sure, we got hit on by soldiers all the time. But, I believe we knew how to handle the situation. A bigger problem was that of rape, and knowing the consequences of reporting a rape. This is sick, sick, and more sick. I don't believe prostitution would be allowed. Those in positions of authority keep a close eye on the activities of troops. And word does get around. Sounds like dishonorable discharges and punishment
will be waiting for those engaging in whoring while serving their country. What a sad situation.

I was also shocked to hear that women who are fighting for our country resort to feeling the need to sell their bodies. It is sad that women are still in a position where they feel like they are the weaker gender and succumb to this prostitution. Sally Raskoff mentioned that she was in the service, but she never relayed any of her experience on the matter if she had any. This is a problem that needs to be addressed and the women are not all to blame. The article stated that many of the women feel social pressure to engage in this behavior, so this needs to be approached from both sides. The author leaves the article open-ended, asking the reader what should be done. I think that this should be addressed by giving women the opportunities that men have. Allowing them to achieve the roles and statuses that men do, so they are less likely to cave to the pressure to sell themselves that men may place on them.

There are so many women who go overseas who lose all of their values & morals. These women, most of who I must mention are married, throw themselves at these guys. They receive all of this attention from men of all relationship status' and figure they will go after the married ones because they know the "secret" will be safe. Karma is a B*tcH and these women will get theres. It is very unfortunate to know that Officers of the United States Air Force are partaking in this type of actions with enlisted men. Aren't these Officers suppose to be the standard for the enlisted folks? There is so much fraternization going on over at Balad AB in Iraq. These poor women's husbands are at home not knowing that their wives are being so unfaithful, it is unfortunate. These women should not be allowed to go to firebases that contain all men. The standards for these women should be higher. Karma will come back to bite them in the rear end and I hope they get exactly what is coming to them.

I agree with Theophile. As an Active Soldier duty currently deployed to Afghanistan I do not feel that female Soldiers are being exploited. I have served with females on many deployments and can say most can hold their own in combat. I believe that the female Soldier is exploiting a market strategy as old as "the profession itself." One where profitability and demand is high, competition is low and where customer satisfaction is most certainly gauranteed. Blame the policy makers who come up with unrealistic views of how the genders should behave in combat situations.

Although there may be a few isolated cases, in my 20 years I never saw or heard about any active duty prostitutes. If any do exist it is related to some sort of developmental disorder the individual came with, absolutely not due to any aspect of the US Military. No women are being coerced into sexual servitude by my military.

Is this what passes for scholarship around here? Entire article is an anti-US Military propaganda piece. The persona who wrote this and anyone who buys into it must think real victims of forced prostitution and human trafficking are a joke.

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