During a speech to pastors in Kansas City in December, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley linked the problem of sex trafficking to the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
Hawley, the top Republican prospect to challenge Democratic incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill in November, launched a new unit in the attorney general’s office focused on fighting human trafficking a few months into his first year in office.
During a speech at a “Pastors and Pews” event hosted by the Missouri Renewal Project, Hawley tied the issue to the sexual revolution, the cultural shift in the 1960s and 1970s that eliminated the social stigma for premarital sex and contraception that had been commonplace in the United States.
“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. 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,” Hawley told the crowd in audio obtained this week by The Star.
“We must ... deliver a message to our culture that the false gospel of ‘anything goes’ ends in this road of slavery. It ends in the slavery and the exploitation of the most vulnerable among us. It ends in the slavery and exploitation of young women.”
Hawley’s comments received widespread attention and criticism after they were published on The Star’s website Wednesday morning. Hawley, who received an endorsement from President Donald Trump in November, had been recruited into the race by Vice President Mike Pence and other prominent Republicans.
McCaskill responded to the controversy over Hawley’s comments on Twitter Wednesday evening. She also took a jab at Hawley’s background as a graduate from Stanford University and Yale Law School.
“I didn’t go to one of those fancy private schools, but the history I learned in public schools & Mizzou taught me that the evidence of trafficking of women for sex goes back to before 2000 BC. It didn’t begin with women’s rights and the birth control pill,” McCaskill said in a tweet.
McCaskill’s campaign sent out a fundraising email later that night that compared Hawley’s comments to former U.S. Rep. Todd Akin’s remarks about “legitimate rape” during his 2012 campaign against McCaskill. Akin, a St. Louis area Republican, went on to lose to McCaskill by double digits.
“Missourians deserve better than a senator who thinks he can blame women for the violence they encounter — just like they deserved better than a senator who thought there were ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ rapes,” McCaskill said in the fundraising email.
Hawley fired back at McCaskill on Twitter and reiterated his view that cultural forces are to blame for trafficking.
“Get real. I’m for contraception & women working. I’m against exploitation of women promoted for decades by Hollywood & culture. Have to change that to stop trafficking. Fly commercial home from your next Hollywood fundraiser & ask people what Hollywood is doing to our culture,” he said to McCaskill.
Hawley made a similar argument during his speech to the Missouri affiliate of the national American Renewal Project, a group that works to politically engage conservative Christians.
“You know what I’m talking about, the 1960s, 1970s, it became commonplace in our culture among our cultural elites, Hollywood, and the media, to talk about, to denigrate the biblical truth about husband and wife, man and woman,” Hawley said in the speech.
Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco, an expert on human trafficking who has advised law enforcement and testified in criminal cases across the country, said there is “absolutely no empirical evidence or research to suggest there was any uptick in human trafficking in the 1960s or 70s or that that’s when it started.”
Mehlman-Orozco, who wrote the 2017 book “Hidden in Plain Sight: America’s Slaves of the New Millennium,” said that sex trafficking has been a problem in the United States since the nation’s founding and that it gained significant public attention in the years after the Civil War.
“There are quite a few politicians, both Republican and Democrat, who try to use the issue to help themselves get elected without doing much research,” Mehlman-Orozco said. “It’s a bipartisan issue that most people can come behind. Everybody’s against human trafficking.”
Hawley’s comments came to light after Courtland Sykes, one of his rivals for the GOP nomination, inspired international backlash with a Facebook post about his desire to have daughters who will grow up to be homemakers rather than “career obsessed banshees.”
Austin Petersen, a Kansas City man who is also seeking the nomination, criticized Hawley’s comments and also compared them to the comments that sunk Akin’s 2012 campaign.
“It would also be great if GOP senate candidates could stop writing Claire’s attack ads and fundraising emails for her. These comments do nothing but foster a Todd Akin-style culture war that the GOP will lose to a formidable female incumbent,” he said in an email.
Hawley’s campaign spokeswoman, Kelli Ford, said the candidate’s comments about the links between trafficking and the sexual revolution do not need clarification.
“Attorney General Hawley has spoken at length about this, so I’m not sure what part was unclear,” Ford said in an email.
The campaign published the full audio of Hawley’s speech to its YouTube page Wednesday, but disabled the ability for users to leave comments. Ford said that the speech, which received little notice in December, had previously aired on the Bott Radio Network, a chain of Christian radio stations.
“In the 1960’s and ’70’s, it became okay for Hollywood and the media to treat women as objects for male gratification... As Josh often says, to end sex trafficking, it’s not enough to put the criminals behind bars; you have to change the culture of male exploitation of women,” Ford said in an additional email Thursday.