The Secret Service disconnect: Sex trafficking

Members of the secret service watch over President Obama as he leaves Tampa, Florida for Columbia this month. Photo: Getty Images/Joe Raedle

I’m not the first to ask, but I will anyway- What was the disconnect with the Secret Service and U.S. military members who, according to federal investigators, allegedly paid to have sex with Columbian prostitutes?

The men are alleged to have taken as many as 21 prostitutes back to their hotels in Cartagena on the night of April 11-12.

I’m not talking about the potential threat to President Barack Obama and national security which was front and center in this controversy.  I am talking about sworn U.S. law enforcement and military personnel helping to subsidize sex trafficking. Aren’t they supposed to protect victims against it?  Do any of these guys have daughters or wives?

According to Reuters, U.S. security men, some of them married, assigned to guard Obama are alleged to have engaged in a night of partying and carousing that ended up with them bringing prostitutes to their hotels just before the president’s arrival for a summit in the Colombian coastal city of Cartagena this month.

According to CNN, sources said the alleged prostitutes signed in at Hotel Caribe in Cartagena, where Secret Service members stayed.

The Secret Service said two more agents were quitting over the scandal in addition to the six who have already left their jobs. Another agent has had his security clearance revoked and will be terminated if that is made permanent.

Sad and alarming to think that men sworn to protect the president and the country they serve allegedly contributed to the sex trafficking trade.  Protectors become predators. According to the 2011 U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons Report:

“Colombia is a major source country for women and
girls subjected to sex trafficking in Latin America, the
Caribbean, Western Europe, Asia, and North America, including the United States.”

Interpol estimates there are 35,000 women and girls trafficked out of Colombia every year for the sex trade, with estimated profits of $500 million, making Colombia second only to the Dominican Republic in the West for sex trafficking.

Tuesday’s announcement accounted for the 12 Secret Service members who have been under investigation, but 12 U.S. military personnel also face possible discipline in a separate probe.

Here’s another question: Were these the misdeeds of a few “knuckleheads,” as  described by President Obama, or is it proof of a cultural double standard that still exists in parts of the U.S. military and Secret Service?

Prostitutes walk near the Hotel Caribe in Cartagena, Colombia. As many as 21 women were brought back to the hotel by US Secret Service and military personnel in an incident last week involving alleged misconduct with prostitutes. Photo: Stringer/Reuters

“The Secret Service is committed to conducting a full, thorough and fair investigation in this matter and won’t hesitate to take appropriate action should any additional information come to light,” Secret Service Assistant Director Paul Morrissey said, according to USA Today.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told CNN Tuesday that he has “no tolerance” for the kind of behavior alleged in Cartagena, noting that Marines involved in an altercation with prostitutes in Brazil last year were demoted and punished.

I believe the vast majority of Secret Service and U.S. military personnel wouldn’t have done this….ever.  They too are disgraced by the actions of a few. But a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Leadership requires accountability.

If the connection between sex trafficking and prostitution doesn’t become part of the broader discussion in Congress, the White House, Secret Service and U.S. military, another disconnect will occur. Another so-called protector will become a sexual predator. I believe that would be a failure of our leadership. The image of our country and these institutions will be tarnished.  And then, what excuse will we have?

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About Bernard McCoy

My views are my own and not a reflection of my employer. I'm an associate professor of Journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I've also been a working journalist for the past 29 years. I have covered news stories in war zones, reported on human and natural disasters, presidential conventions, a presidential inauguration and the September 11th, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. My career experiences include work as an award-winning documentary producer, television news reporter, photographer, producer, and anchor. I worked at WIBW-TV, Topeka, KS., KCTV, Kansas City, MO, WKBD-TV, Detroit, MI., WILX-TV, Lansing, MI. and WBNS-TV, Columbus, OH. I have also worked as a contributing reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, Associated Press, CBS, CNN, the Ohio News Network and lecture at the Kosovo Institute of Journalism and Communications. I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a master’s degree in telecommunications management from Michigan State University.
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One Response to The Secret Service disconnect: Sex trafficking

  1. diablo says:

    It is a shame that even the presidents men have turned to prostitution. They are suppose to have some of the best jobs in the country. How are children suppose to be inspired to become someone like them when they are doing stuff like this. We can thank German influence for this too. Prostitution is legal in Germany and they say it stimulates their economy. They even tax it. Is this event of our Secret Service men a hint of what Obama wants to do?

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