In the wake of the embarrassing Secret Service scandal, in which a clash with a prostitute over payment uncovered more widespread corruption, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has admitted that something similar happened late last year. In Brazil, Panetta said yesterday, three Marines and an American-embassy staffer were punished in December for pushing a sex worker from a car during a fight about money. No charges were filed, but the U.S. embassy paid the woman’s medical bills.
“Where it takes place you can be sure that we will act to make sure that they are punished and that that kind of behavior is not acceptable,” Panetta said. But together, these stories signal an ugly return to a time when prostitution was a very public problem for U.S. troops abroad.
Following the scandal in Colombia, the injured woman in Brazil has reportedly decided to sue the embassy. Those involved in the December incident were removed from the country, Panetta said, and two Marines had their ranks lowered. The defense secretary added that he has “no tolerance for that kind of conduct.”
Forces abroad using prostitutes is, of course, an age-old story — and a concern for superiors — but whereas the issue might’ve once been mostly about health, now it’s public perception. The invention of penicillin and a rise in condom use tempered disease as a national-security concern, but with the spotlight now shining extra bright on Americans’ actions overseas, the thing spreading most quickly is the PR nightmare.