WASHINGTON Children participating in the State Department's "Take Your Child to Work" day event on Thursday were treated to a discussion of prostitutes and strip clubs as reporters pressed for answers on a widening Secret Service scandal.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland opened the daily news briefing with a salute to the handful of underage observers who joined journalists for the mid-day run-down of global events.
But any hopes that the briefing would steer clear of the salacious dissipated as questions focused on charges that Secret Service agents and other U.S. government employees caroused with strippers and prostitutes on overseas assignments.
"What a topic to be talking about on Bring Your Kids To Work day," Nuland said. "Parents, you can explain all of this later."
Nuland said the State Department was investigating the conduct of one U.S. Embassy employee allegedly involved in an incident in Brazil, the second of two embarrassing scandals to emerge this month involving U.S. officials and sex workers in South America.
She also said the department would look at the conduct of embassy employees in El Salvador after a separate news report, based on unidentified sources, that U.S. personnel visited a strip club in San Salvador last year.
One Department employee jokingly moved to cover his daughter's ears as the discussion began, but for the most part the roughly half dozen children present stared dutifully at the floor from their seats along the sidelines of the briefing room. None asked any questions.
The string of scandals came to light this month after Secret Service agents and military personnel were alleged to have taken prostitutes back to their hotel in Colombia before a visit by President Barack Obama.
The State Department has a "zero tolerance" policy for sexual misconduct, Nuland said.
"Members of the Foreign Service are prohibited from engaging in notoriously disgraceful conduct which includes frequenting prostitutes and engaging in public or promiscuous sexual relations or engaging in sexual activity that could open the employee up to the possibility of blackmail, coercion or improper influence," Nuland said.
She noted that activities that could promote sex trafficking, which the State Department specifically targets as part of its human rights portfolio, were particularly out of bounds.
"The department's view is that people who buy sex acts fuel the demand for sex trafficking, and given our policies designed to help governments prevent sex trafficking, etc., it is not in keeping with the behavior that we want to advocate and display ourselves," Nuland said.
(Reporting By Andrew Quinn; editing by Mohammad Zargham)