So our notably priggish Attorney General Josh Hawley thinks that the sexual revolution (read, liberated women) gave us human trafficking and prostitution:
“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. “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.”
I’ve got two points to make abut this remarkably revealing statement:
First, it’s not surprising. Hawley is part of that segment of the Evangelical right-wing that adopted the strategy of justifying misogyny and the repression of women as something that they’re doing for the little woman’s own good. You know – like all the TRAP laws that are ostensibly meant to protect women, but which end up imposing burdensome requirements that make it increasingly difficult to obtain reproductive care? You’ve surely heard wingers tell you that abortion has to be banned because it causes cancer and endangers the mental health of women – otherwise known as junk science used to serve the repressive conservative agenda.
In this case, Hawley is selling the message that women need to be protected from too much freedom since, given male nature I guess, it only encourages men to treat them poorly. Fortunately, #MeToo is showing that women can, if they stick together, deal with male objectification – which itself greatly predates the sexual revolution – on their own; we don’t need the Hawleys of the world to protect us by reinstating the crippling repression that typified so much of the female experience before the 1960s.
Second, as Senator Claire McCaskill and umpty-ump other folks have already remarked, when they were finally able to stop laughing at Hawley’s touching naivete, prostitution and what we now call “trafficking” – which my grandmother (born 1883) called “white slavery” – predates the sexual revolution by a good number of years – like forever. In Victorian London, estimates of the number of women engaged in prostitution ranged between 50,000 to 80,000. And, given the dire condition of much of the Victorian working class it’s not too hard to understand why. Where there’s poverty and powerlessness, there will be prostitution, often lots of prostitution.
What Hawley is overlooking in his effort to explain the burgeoning sex market is the role that poverty – and, yes, the traditional subordination of women – play in rendering women vulnerable to sexual exploitation. As human rights lawyer Dianne Post, observes:
Almost half of the world’s population lives in conditions of extreme poverty or on less than $1 per day. Of these individuals, seventy percent are women. Many women are forced into prostitution for economic, and indeed sheer survival, reasons; this does not constitute “consent.”
In the U.S. runaways and the desperately poor are frequently preyed upon by traffickers. A New York City organization serving homeless youth found “that approximately one in four youths had been a victim of sex trafficking or had engaged in survival sex.” Internationally, women fleeing extreme poverty or war make easy marks for traffickers; one Italian trafficker remarked that this modern slavery was “more profitable than drugs.” Trafficking worldwide is often directed by organized crime which has become expert on ways of profiting from the desperate situation of poor women, frequently women from those “traditional,” female-repressive societies for which Hawley seems to be so nostalgic.
The real reasons for female exploitation are a far cry from the simple-minded evocation of the “sexual revolution.” But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things Hawlely and his political compatriots could do to alleviate the conditions that lead to the sexual exploitation of women and children in this country.
Buoying up the social safety net in ways that serve the needs of this desperate segment of our population would go a long way towards eradicating trafficking. Then, again, there’s the Republican stance in regard to dark-skinned refugees – bring in desperate women from Africa, Haiti, and the Middle East and provide services to integrate them into our society and they’re less likely to end up coming to the country illegally and at the mercy of sex traffickers.
But hey, I forgot, Hawley is a Republican; no wonder he wants to blame women’s problems on a sexual revolution that, no matter what else it achieved, ultimately gave women power over their own sexuality – a type of power that, let’s face it, men have always enjoyed. This easy pretense that we can fix our social problems by turning back the clock not only ignores that fact that the same problems existed in the good old days as well, but makes it just that much easier to justifying blowing your resources on tax cuts for the rich instead of meaningful support for the desperate.