Secret Service scandal sheds light on the international sex industry

“Scandal” is the term being used to describe the conduct of 11 U.S. Secret Service agents who allegedly brought prostitutes … Continued

“Scandal” is the term being used to describe the conduct of 11 U.S. Secret Service agents who allegedly brought prostitutes to their hotel rooms in Cartagena, Colombia. The arrangement came to light because apparently a dispute broke out with one of the women over payment.

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, rightly drew immediate attention to the lack of focus on protecting the president, which should be the primary job of the Secret Service.



U.S. President Barack Obama walks to greet well-wishers, with Secret Service agents at his side, upon his arrival in Tampa, Florida April 13, 2012.

But in addition, this incident can also serve to draw attention to the deep and wide injustices that make up what is called “sex tourism.” Prostitution is legal is parts of Colombia, and it is a well-known sex tourist destination, sometimes called the “Thailand of Latin America.” Thailand is internationally famous for its “sex tourism” industry.

Rita Nakashima Brock and I wrote about sex tourism in Thailand, among other places, in our book “Casting Stones: Prostitution and Liberation in Asia and the United States.” Rita and I spent years researching the sex industry through travel, research and interviews in several Asian countries and in the U.S.

We wanted to draw attention to how religion and society have most often blamed those who are prostituted in the global sex industry, seeing them as “sinners.” Or, today, the term “sex worker” is used to make prostitution sound like ‘nobody gets hurt’ and it’s all about “fun” as a member of the Thai military once told us.

It’s not about fun. It’s not about individual prostitutes “sinning.” It’s not even really about sex. What’s deeply and profoundly wrong about the sex industry is that it is a system that grossly exploits human beings in their bodies, minds and spirits, and uses them to make money literally off of their backs. The sex industry in the U.S. and internationally is a widespread, and very profitable industry, and it is involved in the flagrant exploitation of women, children, and men all over the world.

In all the years I have spent talking with those who have been prostituted, I have never met the “happy hooker.” I have done Bible study with women at an organization in Chicago that works to help those who have been in, or who are still trying to get free of, the sex industry. The views of those prostituted can be summed up by what one woman in prostitution told me, “It sort of kills you, but it’s over fast.”

In parts of Colombia, prostitution may be legal but, as the U.S. State Department reports, “Colombia is a major source country for women and girls subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced prostitution in Latin America, the Caribbean, Western Europe, Asia, and North America, including the United States.”

Sex trafficking, the international transport of persons for sexual exploitation, is a crime. As the
United Nations Global Report on Trafficking in Persons
indicates, it is a “crime that shames us all.” It often involves children and women in particular for forced sex and/or labor.

The “shame” and the “scandal” of prostitution is often rooted in the idea that sex itself is shameful, and sex for sale is a great sin on the part of the one who “sells.” This kind of sexual shaming actually serves only to keep the sex industry running, as those who are prostituted feel enormous shame, and feel that they cannot escape because their situation is their own fault. Sexual shaming, and actual sexual exploitation by authorities, is common.

No, what’s sinful, what’s wrong about prostitution is what I call the “commodification of the body.” It is taking a human body and turning it into an object for sale. This is exactly what is wrong about slavery. Slavery takes a human being, who, in Christian theology, is a created in the image of God and thus has dignity and worth, and makes him or her into an object, a thing, a means to an end. Through threats, and often physical violence, this exploitative arrangement is sustained. Those who are enslaved, or those who are prostituted, are often injured and killed by those who are exploiting them.

Sex tourism? That’s far too benign a term. No, to travel to a foreign country and pay money to use someone else’s body for sex is profoundly immoral. To offer a human body for sale as a form of tourism is deeply, deeply corrupt. And as is clear from the country-by-country State Department report, to engage in “sex tourism” is to be involved in an industry that feeds huge international criminal activity.

So what does it say about the American Secret Service if it is proved that these agents did indeed do what is alleged?

An On Faith panelist and former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), Thistlethwaite is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.


Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."
  • smithtraci

    The country Colombia is spelled Colombia, not Columbia, as it is consistently spelled in this article. It should be changed.

  • Thomas_Enright

    If there’s to be a wider examination of the connection between those on the government payroll and international sex tourism, you might wish to also question why the US Navy continues to take shore leave in Pattaya and Phuket, Thailand.

    The correct answer is not the affordability of jet-ski rentals, but instead the low cost and ready availability of other short-term, cash-based pleasure activities. US Navy port calls in Thailand are nothing less than state-sponsored sex tourism.

  • xexon

    As long as we’re talking the sex trade and religion, let’s talk about the “holy land”.

    Israel has a billion dollar sex industry and an appetite for underage girls shipped from places like the Ukraine.

    Hopefully, our president and his protectors won’t be visiting there anytime soon.


  • Ellen25


  • packard1

    I am struck by how very little coverage is being afforded this scandal. It’s got everything from sex, drugs, foreign intrigue, presidential security.

    WP: Que paso?

  • timodoz

    Yea big deal, no wonder we killed 13 witches and successfully drove the Devil out of them. A guy in a nice suit goes to a cafe/bar on the upper east side after a day of trading options and futures, meets a very nice set of cheek bones cruising for a significant other ala “SEX in the City”, and that’s just social interaction if he gets lucky on his first night out. A guy in a high stress job has to act like he is not a guy , but un Maricon, when he goes out off duty for a beer and 10 nice sets of cheek bones throw themselves at him. It’s like the 16 year old guy getting lucky with his biology teacher, yea really morally repugnant to the high brow a-h0les most of whom have no need of Viagra because their wife is a cow instead of a Cialis girl/model. I was in a grocery store yesterday were I observed a couple shopping with their two morbidly obese pre-teen daughters . They were almost as big as the mother. That’s disgusting. Polanski once told Barbra Walters that young women are the most beautiful women and therefore the most desirable. With 70% of our teen girls not Roman Polanski material we have to go overseas and tell the rest of the world how to live? We got the Swiss bank secrets that they guarded for the last 5 centuries. They paid us back for that by doing an Ahhr-nold on Roman. They “Let him go”! The US can not even enforce the foreign corrupt practices laws against SW Asian Baksheesh and Eastern Asia’s Cumshaw. Cargo ship owners have to pay the N Koreans bribes to take our free foreign aid off their hands. Failure to pay means “maybe big problems”. “What no Marlboro’s? Deese Winstons every one know are sheet!” The US should take care of things at home and prosecute the criminals Fuld, Cayne, Prince, Killinger, Thompson and Mozillo who have destroyed our banking system and dumped $3-$4 trillion in their losses on the American taxpayer. Instead we are worried about who is getting laid and busting Oaksterdam

  • timodoz

    Why not some reporting on “The Cages” of Mumbai? Those Nepalese girls so highly prized for their light skin, diminutive stature and eagerness to please. WE should do something. We should impose trade sanctions on India if they don’t change their culture to eliminate what we find disgusting and they regard as like a trip to Dunkin’ Donuts for a morning Joe.

  • RetiredOfficer

    And so? You want a bunch of teenage sailors to visit what, the Vatscan? The Carnegie library?

  • swampfoxx4

    Were women agents involved? If so, how.

  • quiensabe

    So, Susan, you’ve finally found something else immoral besides Christians not giving their hard earned money over to the OWS bunch, eh?

  • NoMoreApologies

    You all may be missing the bigger story here. Were there no potential Secret Service whistleblowers about to drop bombshell revelations into activities of the current administration? What better way to discredit potential witnesses? It only takes one bad apple to tarnish the entire organization. Our supremely professional operatives in Secret Service and other thankless organizations protecting American interests deserve better treatment. Who is the real evildoer here? There’s something rotten here, and I do not believe the stink is coming from the Secret Service. They have always represented the best of the best among us. Do not rush to judgement. Instead, dig out the real truth., What good are journalists who can not or will not reveal the truth? Are our news people no more than propagandists? Hitler and Stalin would never have gained promiinence without a compliant press corps. Either give us the truth, or find another way to earn a living.

  • Kingofkings1


  • Kingofkings1


  • Jhudeihed

    I agree. It’s amazing how our boys in the U.S. armed services are so very happy to use foreign women as prostitutes for their pleasure but would be horrified if the same thing was done to their sisters, wives, girlfriends or mothers. Why are “foreign” women’s lives/souls worth less and become commodities for our armed forces while their own female family members are protected by them? Perhaps we need to be raising these young men with different perspectives when it comes to women.

  • madcitizen

    Wait until Michelle Obama finds out the youngest girls were for Barry, and he’s been doing this for over 3 years.


    Barry’s headed to the dog house.

  • poppi42

    Thanks for putting the correct spelling out there. Note, however, that the article by ST has the correct spelling and the incorrect spelling is being handled by the commenters.

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