Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley

UPDATES with McCaskill and Hawley's Twitter battle over sex trafficking

A week after Republican U.S. Senate candidate Courtland Sykes of Missouri called feminists “career-obsessed banshees” with “snake-filled heads,” audio has emerged of another GOP candidate blaming modern sex trafficking on the sexual revolution — the cultural movement of half a century ago that ushered in accessible birth control, divorce law reforms and other advances for women.

“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,” Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley said during a speech to pastors in Kansas City in December, according to an audio obtained by the Kansas City Star and posted on Wednesday.

“[W]e’re living now with the terrible aftereffects of this so-called revolution, which was in fact, I think, a great step back,” Hawley says in the audio. “And one of them is, one of those effects, is a crisis in our country that goes by the name of human trafficking.”

According to the Star, the audio was recorded during a speech by Hawley last month at a “Pastors and Pews” event hosted by the Missouri Renewal Project.

Elsewhere on the audio, Hawley says:

“[P]eople 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.”

Unlike Sykes — a fringe candidate with little political support whose anti-feminist outburst on Facebook last week brought him national attention for the first time — Hawley is a sitting state attorney general and a GOP primary front-runner with widespread support from top Republicans, including President Donald Trump.

The winner of the August Republican primary will probably face incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in November. The race is expected to be one of the most-watched Senate races in the country because of McCaskill’s vulnerability as a Democrat in a once-moderate state that has swung hard to the right in recent years.

By Wednesday night, McCaskill and Hawley began debating the issue on Twitter.

McCaskill tweeted that while she hadn't attended "fancy private schools" she did learn that "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."

Hawley responded that he supported working women and contraception but "I'm against exploitation of women promoted for decades by Hollywood & culture."

Hawley’s campaign, when asked to comment, issued a statement reinforcing his original speech.

“Let’s get serious: Sex trafficking is driven by male demand and the subjugation of women,” Hawley spokeswoman Kelli Ford said in the statement. “In the 1960s and ’70s, 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.”

The statement added: “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 was sworn in as attorney general a year ago and has focused on combating sex trafficking, which is forced prostitution that involves transporting women and girls far from home. He has created an anti-sex-trafficking unit in his office and has launched legal action against the website Backpage.com for allegedly promoting the practice.

The sexual revolution is generally defined as the period of the late 1960s and early 1970s when sexual mores loosened — especially the previously strict social and legal restraints on female sexuality outside of marriage.

Advancements in the science and social acceptance of artificial contraception gave women more control over when and how often they had children, with one result being an increase of women in the workplace. No-fault divorce went from being a Nevada oddity to the national norm. Critics of the movement point out it also prompted increases in out-of-wedlock pregnancy and one-parent families.

The sexual revolution overlapped with elements of the nascent feminist and gay-rights movements. It arguably helped lay ground for Roe v. Wade, the still-controversial 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion. Many people in today’s same-sex marriage debate — both supporters and critics of that movement’s recent breakthroughs — believe it to be another of the sexual revolution’s legacies.

Hawley certainly isn’t the first modern politician to criticize the sexual revolution. It has been a favorite target among conservatives for decades.

But his comments laying specific blame on that movement for something as universally condemned as sex trafficking attracted attention from national news sites and raised eyebrows on social media Wednesday.

Some noted the irony of blaming a 1960s movement for what is a form of prostitution — also known as “the world’s oldest profession.”

“Sex trafficking is just now an issue?” tweeted @BKelly4H. “Damn, my history books lied to me.”

Perhaps inevitably, some drew correlations with Todd Akin, the 2012 Missouri U.S. Senate Republican nominee who lost to McCaskill that year after he garnered national scorn for claiming in an interview that rape is physiologically unlikely to result in pregnancy — a myth of the anti-abortion movement that has no medical basis.

Among those drawing the Akin analogy was Austin Petersen, who is also running for the GOP Senate nomination.

“These comments do nothing but foster a Todd Akin-style culture war that the GOP will lose to a formidable female incumbent,” Petersen warned on Twitter (@AP4Liberty).

He added: “Sometimes it feels like these people actually WANT to lose.”


Update: The Hawley campaign posted a YouTube video with the full audio of his speech on Wednesday. His comments about the sexual revolution come about 26 minutes into the speech.

Kevin McDermott • 314-340-8268

@kevinmcdermott on Twitter

kmcdermott@post-dispatch.com

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