Missouri Attorney General and Republican Senate candidate Josh Hawley has found himself under attack for expressing the belief that the loosening of sexual mores has contributed to sex trafficking.
Various news outlets have compared Hawley’s comments, which were made at Christian event in December, to former Missouri Rep. Todd Akin’s (R.) comment that rape victims were unlikely to get pregnant. Hawley’s comments, however, focused on how American culture should treat women with respect rather than as commodities, saying the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s was a "step back."
"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 at a Missouri Renewal Project event. "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."
The Kansas City Star first reported Hawley’s comments in an article Wednesday headlined "Josh Hawley blames sex trafficking on ‘sexual revolution’ of 1960s in speech to pastors." Later that day, articles with similar headlines were appearing all over the internet.
Critics accused Hawley of trying to wage a "culture war," and news reports about his words have compared him to Akin. When Akin made his comment about rape in August 2012, it apparently helped his opponent Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.) win the Senate seat, which she is now defending from Hawley’s challenge.
Kevin McDermott of the St. Louis Post Dispatch even paralleled Hawley’s comment with Courtland Sykes, who called feminists "career-obsessed banshees" with "snake-filled heads." Sykes was formerly a candidate in the Senate primary, but with less than $500 in funding and virtually no support, his campaign is not operating any longer.
The Springfield News-Leader, part of the USA Today network, reported that "many" people are comparing Hawley’s remarks to Akin’s.
Austin Petersen, who lost to Gary Johnson in his bid to be the 2016 Libertarian presidential candidate, is running against Hawley in the GOP Senate primary, and he immediately made the Akin comparison.
"If my [GOP] Senate primary opponents could stop writing [McCaskill's] fundraising ads for her, that'd be great," Petersen said.
"These comments do nothing but foster a Todd Akin-style culture war that the GOP will lose to a formidable female incumbent," he added.
The Associated Press also brought up Petersen’s quote to compare Hawley’s remarks to Akin’s, which were widely denounced at the time and led to an apology from Akin. Hawley’s office, however, has stood by his remarks, which blamed sex trafficking on a combination of factors that included loose sexual morality.
"Let’s get serious: sex trafficking is driven by male demand and the subjugation of women," Hawley’s spokeswoman Kelli Ford said in a statement. "In the 1960's and '70's, it became okay 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. 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’s work as state attorney general has focused a great deal on human trafficking.
McCaskill tweeted her own criticism of Hawley on Wednesday, accusing him of saying sex trafficking didn’t exist before the 1960s.
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. @HawleyMo
— Claire McCaskill (@clairecmc) January 31, 2018
Later that night, Hawley responded to McCaskill by saying he is against the exploitation of women that is promoted in our culture, not against women’s rights.
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. https://t.co/NJ3MdvFGcI
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) February 1, 2018
Allison Teixeira Sulier, a spokeswoman for the liberal advocacy group American Bridge, even said Hawley was suggesting women were "responsible" for being raped.
It is "disgusting and wrong to ever suggest a woman is responsible for her own imprisonment and repeated rape," Sulier said.
Hawley’s comments, however, did not include a discussion of any woman that he blamed for being sexually assaulted. In fact, he spoke with compassion about victims.
"We must seek to help the victims of this crime to recover, to find a new life, to find healing and wholeness and a new start," Hawley said.
Hawley is not the first person to discuss the potential negative, albeit unintended, impacts the liberalization of social attitudes toward sex may have. Various Christians and conservative political commentators have made connections between how sex is presented in media, specifically pornography, and potential negative effects such as trafficking.