Claire McCaskill is handing out history lessons free of charge.
The Missouri senator is up for re-election in 2018, and recently one of her potential opponents — Josh Hawley — made headlines for all the wrong reasons. The Missouri state attorney general and Republican candidate gave a speech in December where he appeared to blame sex trafficking in part on the 1960s sexual revolution.
“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 speech given to Christian pastors, per The Kansas City Star. “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."
He added: "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."
The Kansas City Star was the first to break the news of his comments, and the story quickly spread to national outlets like CNN and The Washington Post. Hawley is currently jockeying for the Republican nomination in a crowded field of candidates, but could face off with Sen. McCaskill for a Senate seat in the 2018 midterms.
On Wednesday, McCaskill responded to his comments on Twitter.
"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," McCaskill wrote. "It didn’t begin with women’s rights and the birth control pill."
McCaskill is right: human trafficking long predates the 1960s, and, per the United Nations, there is no singular root cause. According to the U.N. human trafficking toolkit, trafficking is a complicated phenomenon. And while there are common factors — poverty, oppression, lack of economic opportunity, and local instability among them — sexual freedom is nowhere on the list.
When reached for comment by CNN, Hawley's campaign doubled down on his speech while also steering away from his more controversial remarks.
"Let's get serious: sex trafficking is driven by male demand and the subjugation of women. In the 1960s and '70s, it became OK for Hollywood and the media to treat women as objects for male gratification. And that demeaning view of women has helped fuel harassment, inequality, and yes, sex trafficking," Kelli Ford, a spokesperson for the campaign, told CNN. "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."
Hawley has helped lead a campaign in Missouri as attorney general to crackdown on human trafficking.
McCaskill has also advocated for victims of human trafficking during her time in the Senate, backing 2017's bipartisan Abolish Human Trafficking Act.
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, Missouri had 74 reported cases of human trafficking in 2017. But the numbers aren't perfect.
“This is often a hidden problem and oftentimes victims don’t identify as victims,” International Institute of St. Louis anti-trafficking community coordinator Amanda Mohl told St. Louis Public Radio this past year. “A specific social service provider can tell you how many tips we’ve gotten but we can’t tell you how many people might be impacted out there. Any statistics you see out there are the tip of the iceberg.”
It's safe to say plenty of eyes will be on this race come November — especially those of women's rights and anti-human trafficking advocates.
Cover image via Katherine Welles / Shutterstock.com.