While Navy court records and investigative files suggest U.S. sailors have patronized and profited off Thai prostitutes in Bahrain for years, Navy officials say the problem has been brought under control via new training.
After a rash of such cases emerged there in 2017 and 2018, Navy sex trafficking training at the Bahrain-based U.S. 5th Fleet is no longer “stove-piped,” and new programs help sailors to recognize if they are susceptible to the vices Bahrain offers outside the base gates, officials say.
“These things are wrong,” then-Vice Adm. John Aquilino stressed to his 5th Fleet sailors in a 2018 all-hands call, after he received word of the investigations. “They are wrong. I don’t care if you’re in Bahrain, the United States, Singapore, Japan. It’s wrong no matter where you are.”
The investigations into more than a dozen sailors made everyone realize that the command needed “a more structured and deliberate campaign,” Capt. Carey Cash, the former fleet chaplain, told Military Times last year.
“Wherever sailors are stationed, whether it’s (stateside) or overseas, these challenges are there,” said Cash, who transferred from Bahrain in March. “What became apparent to us in Bahrain is we needed to do our due diligence…to be more deliberate about how we addressed it.”
The command there declares certain establishments off limits for sailors if there is a belief that it could lead to such unwanted interactions.
Cash has been on active duty for nearly 20 years, and said that what he saw in Bahrain was not the first time he had heard of such cases.
“Every crisis is a combination of danger and opportunity,” he said. “This is a crisis, and the danger is lives are being impacted and hurt.”
“As loathe as we are to seeing these cases…all of us, every one of us, need to make sure we are watching the trajectory of our own lives,” Cash said. “Any of us can slowly and almost quietly walk down a very dangerous path.”
Part of the renewed to crackdown on patronizing and trafficking prostitutes involved an advisory board comprised of officer and senior enlisted members, as well as some junior sailors, “that would help pull some wisdom and think about effective ways to get at the various groups within Bahrain.”
Much of Cash’s role in this renewed effort involves “ethics and character briefs” tailored for 5th Fleet personnel, he said.
The briefs focused on “habits which lead people down the road of bad decisions,” Cash told Military Times.
Sailors who have “heavy pornography use, secretive social media use and patterns of infidelity” are more susceptible to Bahrain’s vices, he said.
“When we do our briefs, we address these issues and let folks sort of come to their own conclusions about these behaviors,” Cash said, calling it “a mature discussion about real challenges that are out there across the fleet.”
Bahrain government officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment regarding the vulnerable women.
Real change among the ranks stationed in Bahrain will require a sustained effort, according to Corey Bean, an attorney and Navy reservist who was stationed in Bahrain from 2016 to 2019 and worked on several cases involving sex crime and trafficking allegations against sailors.
“It’s going to involve some better deckplate leadership,” he said of the prospects for improvement. “Chiefs, senior enlisted, engaging directly with sailors on that issue. Not only what the potential harm is, but the risk to the sailor legally in terms of jeopardizing their career and reputation, and letting them know that no matter what they have heard in the past, the Navy is not looking the other way anymore.”
“It’s got to be a sustained effort,” Bean continued. “You can’t just put out training where everybody signs off and goes on with what they have been doing.”
To read the full Tinder, Sailor, Hooker, Pimp story, visit: http://militarytimes.com/bahrain-scandal
Watch all five parts of the video series:
Part 1: “They do sex and make u money”
Part 2: The Informant
Part 3: “She tried to fight”
Part 4: “She came to my room”
Part 5: “Unacceptable”
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.