August 11, 2008
Miss Iraq 2008, Myra Adel, noticed one of my articles on the Iraqi sex trade and e-mailed me about what she had seen when she visited Syria, a country where Iraqi refugee women and girls, rendered desperate by the war, are being sold for prostitution.
I asked for her permission to use the information, since e-mail correspondence is private; and she urged me to share it with the world, in hopes we will all help. Before I do, though, a little background, from other sources, on what is happening. About 50,000 Iraqi refugee women and girls are being sold for sex. There is a large sex trade in young Iraqi girls in the nightclubs of Damascus. Fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds—literally girls–not even women yet, and even children, are being sold. (MSNBC, CBS, CNN, Reuters, the Associated Press, Salon Magazine, the UK Guardian, the Independent, the New York Times, the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children, the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, Human Rights Watch—all have covered the Iraqi prostitution situation due to the war. See "Sources" below for information and for some coverage of the prostitution picture inside Iraq as well.)
Myra Adel, Miss Iraq, adds a valuable eyewitness account and she also explains that her trip to Syria is the reason she is stepping down as Miss Iraq 2008: "They have been great to me but I will no longer be involved with the Pageant, due to the fact that I really couldn’t take it when I saw all those refugees in Syria being mistreated…seeing these people suffer made me ashamed….I don’t deserve to live in a classy apartment while other women are selling themselves."
Miss Adel is shocked at what she saw in Syria, like the sale of ten-year-old girls. "What kind of sick demented human being would want to have sex with a 10-year-old?" she asks.
Ms. Adel also comments on the ineffectiveness of the UN High Commission for Refugees and on local corruption: "I couldn’t take it seeing the UNHCR just sitting there doing nothing, while governments like the Syrian government and the Jordanian government see this as an opportunity to manipulate the countries of the world to donate millions of dollars to Syria and Jordan and the money goes into the pockets of government officials and the U.N. staff." She goes on to say that "the Syrian and Jordanian governments are taking advantage of the refugee situation to turn it into a profitable business." And she thinks that greed and apathy on the part of Iraq and the U.S. are also responsible for the plight of the women. Of course, she could not be more on-target: the terrible sexual exploitation of women as a result of war is always extremely low on all governmental, political, and military agendas. It is important in so far as others can make money off the women’s bodies and use them for male convenience: but it is not an aspect of war where anyone pays attention to female safety, dignity, and well being at all.
It is interesting that Ms. Adel notes the failure of the UN in this matter since I have asked, in my own writings, where the UNHCR funds are going in Syria. The UN is extremely well funded. It would seem that not one single Iraqi teen should be for sale in a Damascus nightclub if all that money is going where it should be going. (For a good summary of the corruption problems at the UN, see Nile Gardiner’s article, "Kofi Annan’s 'Legacy of Failure’" [11 Dec. 2006] at www.heritage.org). Someone to monitor the UN is one of Ms. Adel’s suggestions.
Ms. Adel also criticizes the current government in Iraq for not implementing social programs to help refugees. The Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (www.equalityiniraq.com), headed by Yanar Mohammed, is a good source for the hardships of women forced into prostitution within the country.
Ms. Adel admits she is not a politician (neither am I, for that matter); but she makes some sensible suggestions for getting help to these girls. She believes that "humanitarian organizations headed by governments that have a…corruption-free status should monitor the money being sent to the refugees and the money should be given to them instead of the Jordanian or Syrian government." And she would like to see "more NGO’s from Scandinavian countries and other European countries set up offices in Amman and Damascus." She also thinks that getting people to talk about this issue would be a big step.
She says that the "annual government budget in Iraq exceeds 70 billion US dollars. Where is that money going? Power cuts are long, people get electricity for only an hour or two a day…water is cut off as well." She would like to see some of the money going to fund the Iraqi women and girls in Syria who are so desperate they must sell themselves to survive. Ms. Adel brings up a great question—to repeat it—where is the money in Iraq going? Is US and Iraqi corruption, combined, so overwhelming that a few are getting enormously rich and the majority of Iraqis are suffering terrible hardships, and in the case of the subject of this article, the women in prostitution, those hardships mean bodies and lives that will be nightmares forever from this degradation.
A story entitled "Iraq’s Oil Profits Huge" by Kevin Hall (McClatchy Newspapers) came out just a few days ago (Aug. 5, 2008), and it reports that "Iraq…racked up $32.9 billion in oil earnings from January through June of this year." In my view, with those kinds of funds, the Iraqi government could extensively care for all of those 50,000 suffering women and girls whose bodies and lives have been so degraded. It could provide for that 10-year-old Iraqi girl prostitute for the rest of her life and give her the counseling and care and protection and safety she deserves.
In my view, the story of the 10-year-old Iraqi girl, forced to have sex for money, this is war. All the rhetoric of politicians and journalists cannot excuse what has happened to her. All the fancy phrases about a war being "A Right War" or "A Just War" have any meaning for her. Is the woman who must walk the streets of Baghdad and sell her body to feed her children in any way aware of the politicians, sitting in their neat offices, making the decisions that have destroyed her life? Would she consider this 'a right war’ and 'a just war’ and a war for her 'freedom’? What do these men and women–who have endless debates, in their safe offices, about policy and weapons and troop reductions–have to do with her? The thing is: a woman never, ever thinks: what a great war this is—it has given me the 'freedom’ to sell my body.
War never benefits women. Condi Rice, you are supposedly a woman. Explain to me how Operation Iraqi Freedom works? How does it benefit the 50,000 or more prostituted women and girls you have destroyed?
Miss Iraq mentioned to me that Trump is behind the Miss Universe pageants and that she thinks he might be a possible source of support. She says that "the Miss Iraq organizers are working on creating awareness and they are taking this matter very seriously."
The most moving part of her e-mail was her description of a visit to prostituted Iraqi girls in a Syrian prison. "I spoke to some of them," Ms. Adel writes, "and they said they would rather be in prison than have to go back out there and get abused by Saudi, Kuwaiti, and other Gulf States men who still hold grudges against Iraq and find pleasure in abusing Iraqi women to make them pay for Iraq’s war against these Gulf States in 1991."
It is the same old story of men using women’s bodies as battlefields, and the women have no chance of victory in this kind of war.
"Please help these girls," says Miss Iraq, in her e-mail. What came through in Ms. Adel’s e-mails to me is how deeply troubled she is by what she has seen. And her passionate commitment to help these women and girls.
I wrote to her that I think she should try to contact Oprah. Airing this topic on Oprah would be a big first step. It is definitely the kind of subject Oprah might cover and she is likely to find the views of Ms. Iraq on the subject timely and profoundly moving. Oprah has done similar shows–one on child prostitution in Asia–and it would certainly be of interest to her viewers to know what is happening in terms of wartime prostitution as a result of our occupation and the corruptions in the UN and in Jordan and Syria.
This writer would welcome suggestions from readers about what all of us can do to help.
I don’t usually append a formal works cited to my articles, since informal, in-text citation seems more the convention of the internet; but here I am adding a list of sources where readers can find information about the prostitution situation of Iraqi women and girls. If a first step is awareness, the information is out there. Once enlightened and informed, people have no excuse but to act—whether it be campaigns to enlighten millions of others, or pressure put upon organizations, politicians, and governments to act.
Anwar, Layla. "An Arab Woman Blues" 2006-2008. Blog.
Caryl, Christian. "Iraqi Vice: Porn, Prostitution and Booze." Newsweek 22 Dec. 2007
Clark-Flory, Tracy. "Iraqi Women Sell Sex for Survival." Salon 29 May 2007
Davis, Sue. "Sexual Exploitation of Iraqi Women: Another Reason to Bring the Troops Home." Workers World. 8 Oct. 2007
"Desperate Iraqi Refugees Turn to Sex Trade in Syria." New York Times 29 May 2007
Engle, Richard. "In Syria, Girls March as Timebomb Ticks." 10 July 2007 MSNBC.
Firmo-Fontan, Victoria. "Abducted, Beaten and Sold into Prostitution: A Tale from Iraq." Independent 26 July 2004
Gardiner, Nile, Ph.D., "Kofi Annan’s 'Legacy of Failure.’" The Heritage Foundation. 11 Dec. 2006
Goldenberg, Suzanne. "US Soldiers Accused of Sexual Assaults." The Guardian 8 Mar. 2005
"Iraqi Women: Prostituting Ourselves to Feed Our Children." Arwa Damon. CNN 15 March 2008
"Iraqi Refugee Women and Youth in Jordan." Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children. Sept. 2007
Jamail, Dahr, and Ali al-Fadhily. "Rape Case Emerges from Shadows." 3 Mar. 2007
"Iraqi Women Paying the Price." 24 Jan. 2005
"Johns, Prostitution and Iraq." Apostate. 28 Aug 2007
Lloyd, Carol. "Survival Sex in Iraq." Salon 7 Dec. 2007
Lyons, Alistair. "Iraqi Refugees Turn to Sex Trade in Syria." Reuters 31 Dec. 2007
Macleod, Hugh. "Despair of Baghdad Turns into a Life of Shame in Damascus: Young Women Fleeing War and Poverty Fall Prey to Sex Traffickers." The Guardian 24 Oct. 2006
McNutt, Debra. "Is the Iraq Occupation Enabling Prostitution?" Psyche, Science, and Society. 11 July 2007
Morgan, Robin. "Their Bodies as Weapons" Guardian UK 21 Aug. 2006
Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq
Palmer, Elizabeth. "Iraqi Refugees Turn to Prostitution." CBS News 31 Dec. 2007
Phillips, Joshua E.S. "Unveiling Iraq’s Teenage Prostitutes." Salon 24 June 2005
"The Rape of Iraq." Women’s Space 8 July 2008
Riverbend. Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog from Iraq. New York: The Feminist Press at the City U of New York, 2005.
Rosen, Ruth. "The Hidden War on Women in Iraq." Mother Jones 13 July 2006
Ross, Sherwood. "Rape of Iraqi Women Byproduct of Militarism." OpEd News 10 Apr 2007
Sarhan, Afif. "In Iraq, Sex is Traded for Survival." Arab American News
"Sex Traffickers Target Women in War-Torn Iraq." Organization of Women’s Freedom 1 Nov. 2006
"Sexual Violence and Abduction of Women and Girls—Iraq." Human Rights Watch 2003
Sinan, Omar. "Iraqi Refugees Turn to Prostitution." Associated Press 25 Oct. 2007
Wolf, Joerg. "Prostitution in Iraq." Atlantic Review 26 Aug. 2007
"Women, Children and Youth in the Iraq Crisis: A Fact Sheet." Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children Jan 2008
Suki Falconberg is a former prostitute and the author of two novels: Tender Bodies and Whore Stories and its sequel, Comfort the Comfort Women. Both are erotic satires on military prostitution and can be ordered at www.amazon.com, www.barnes&noble.com, and www.borders.com. She has a non-fiction account of military prostitution, The Raped Vagina, coming out in the fall of 2008.