You’d think by now that politicians who try to burnish their credentials with appeals to biblical morality would learn to do so in ways that do not make laughingstocks of themselves and their purported biblical morality.
Consider the case of Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, who recently claimed the sexual revolution of the 1960s and ’70s, and the “anything goes” culture pushed by “Hollywood” and “cultural elites,” is responsible for the scourge of human trafficking.
How is it that a candidate for high office can actually believe the commerce in women and children as sexual chattel -- a trade that has certainly abided as long as human civilization -- has somehow been facilitated by a movement that gained women more rights over their own wombs and livelihoods?
“We have a human trafficking crisis in our state and in this city and in our country because people are willing to purchase women, young women, and treat them like commodities,” Hawley said in a taped speech given in December at an event in Kansas City hosted by the Missouri arm of the American Renewal Project, which reaches out to evangelicals, blending messages of faith with politics. “There is a market for it. Why is there? Because our culture has completely lost its way. The sexual revolution has led to exploitation of women on a scale that we would never have imagined, never have imagined.”
How long will we have to hear this old song and dance? It gets updated for the times, of course. Women can swipe left or right and chose a date or even a sexual partner nowadays ... ain’t it awful? Maybe, but this is not a cause of human trafficking.
A number of experts on trafficking have succinctly pointed out that the selling of human beings for labor or sex has always been among the key ways that humans abuse others for profit. “Human trafficking” is merely a term for a modern form of slavery, in which victims are kept in captivity by their abusers by violence and emotional abuse.
It has nothing to do with current dating norms or the fact that it is far more acceptable in society for a woman to have a child out of wedlock -- or even the many rights that LGBTQ people have gained, also a result of the loosening of codes about sexual arrangements.
Moreover, Hawley’s argument crosses the line into blaming victims -- sexually exploited women, in this case -- for their plight.
The audiotape of Hawley’s comments is making the rounds now, two months after the speech, because it ignites his foes. He is widely expected to be the GOP challenger to U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill in November.
The race is setting up to be one of the most contentious of the mid-terms, as Hawley has already gained the blessing of President Donald Trump -- which is interesting for a candidate playing the godliness game to the hilt. Trump’s own sexual attitudes and dalliances -- such as, most recently, reports that he paid a porn star to hush up about their affair -- tend to undercut the holy and chaste party line.
Clearly, when he made his comments Hawley thought he was on safe turf, among like-minded Christian conservatives. He was literally preaching to the choir, as evangelicals have long been concerned with human trafficking, seeing it as vice from which they can rescue lost souls.
The disgrace is that this episode twisted a real and serious public policy issue, one that both Hawley and McCaskill have taken on within their political careers.
McCaskill is to be credited for her leadership in the bipartisan takedown of the business Backpage.com, which became a marketplace for pimps and others to sell under-aged girls for the sexual pleasure of others.
As Missouri attorney general, Hawley launched investigations of Backpage and other human trafficking, no doubt intent on matching McCaskill’s solid credentials on the problem.
In other words, Hawley knows better than to demagogue this issue.
As many as 20.9 million people, and not just women, are believed to be enslaved globally by traffickers. Immigrants seeking work wind up as sex or labor slaves, exploited by those who help them cross borders illegally. Young women and men wind up being controlled by those who supply drugs for an addiction. Human trafficking is a complicated, international issue that robs people of their freedom.
And its victims deserve better than to become fodder for the religious right’s idiotic culture wars.