No matter who is elected in November, it looks like pimps will come out as winners in this presidential election. Buyers of sex and facilitators of prostitution aren’t doing too badly either. As for victims of sex trafficking, maybe it’s just not their year.
I was hoping to outline Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama’s positions on human trafficking, especially pertaining to the situation of domestic trafficking and prostitution in the U.S. After combing through their platforms, contacting their campaign offices, and searching through past statements on the subject, I have found that neither candidate has concrete plans to combat the direct causes of sex trafficking or to ensure proper treatment of trafficking victims. Talk on the subject has been restricted to the traffic of foreign nationals into the U.S., or trafficking as a foreign issue altogether.
While the term “sexual exploitation” is very rarely uttered by Obama, he is seen by many as the better advocate for women’s issues, especially regarding violence against women. But it seems that he’s not making the link between this violence and the situation of prostitution, nor does he seem to grasp the magnitude of the problem in the United States. On Human Rights Day in December, 2007, Obama gave a speech about discrimination and violence against women listing examples from country to country, and calling on America to combat this essentially foreign problem. Perhaps this speech received enough feedback for him to alter his position, because a few weeks later an op-ed appeared in the Chicago Defender, where Obama addressed women’s issues at home and stated that America needs to set an example before helping those abroad.
While this submission focused on domestic violence in his commitment to support the Violence Against Women Act, he also stated that, as President, he would appoint an advisor that would report to him on issues related to violence against women. We might be able to see government action respond better to the reality on the streets if it is informed by a special outlet like this. And it would definitely be necessary for Obama, as an interview with NBC Today regarding the Elliot Spitzer scandal illustrated his ignorance on the issue of prostitution. When Obama was asked whether this was a personal issue for the governor and if he would work with Spitzer if his support was offered, Obama responded that the “human dimension” was the biggest concern, that being the family tragedy. Not to mention anything about the other human involved, the human dimension apparently is not related to the politics of the issue (so…what are politics for again?). Obama asserted that he would work with the former governor, saying, “Look, we’re all flawed.” This hardly sounds like zero tolerance for johns.
Senator McCain has a history of battling child pornography, introducing a bill last year to improve current regulations and cooperation in combating the problem. While his efforts may serve to decrease the sexual exploitation of children, they are not specifically geared to address child prostitution. McCain’s position on human trafficking was best outlined in a recent speech he gave in Michigan, where he expressed a firm commitment to work against human trafficking if made President. He did not mention the trafficking of U.S. citizens for prostitution, but his call for an international response gives an indication that he is referring more to foreign nationals. He goes on to discuss his continued work against child pornography, not addressing any other type of trafficking for the sexual exploitation of children. It seems that McCain has an outdated grasp of the problem and needs to be informed about the current challenges America is facing. This is especially made clear by the fact that his recommendation to combat trafficking – an Inter-Agency Task Force – already exists.
So why aren’t these candidates prioritizing human trafficking in their campaigns? Well, the issues emphasized are not always the choice of the candidates. After all, it depends on what the public wants to hear. Commenting on the above-mentioned speech by Senator McCain, one article expressed the weakness this subject has in reeling in votes: “McCain blew his chance to shore up support in the Wolverine State on May 7 with a rambling speech on child pornography and human trafficking in Rochester Hills. But Obama got that it’s all about the economy, baby.”
Then again, how is the public supposed to understand this as a crisis we are facing at home, if it is not expressed that way by our politicians? It makes sense that U.S. citizens respond more to issues that they know are directly affecting them and their own children, rather than hearing about how to fix a problem that seems far from home. That is why either of these candidates would do well to expose the reality of what is happening on American soil and demonstrate that they are in touch with the most vulnerable in today’s society. Introducing new measures that would penetrate today’s society and combat this problem from within would give them an image of being someone who truly means change.