Why is it OK for Wendy Rogers to make sex trafficking allegations so casually?
Opinion: Sex may sell, but something as serious as sex trafficking allegations should never be used to buy votes.
Politics is a nasty business.
Campaign rhetoric is constantly digging for a new low, and in a time where “going viral” is a goal, it’s little surprise that statements become more outrageous.
Case in point is Arizona's Congressional District 1, where Republican candidate Wendy Rogers made unfounded claims that rival Steve Smith had worked with a modeling agency that had links to sex trafficking.
Smith is now denouncing Rogers, calling for her to drop out of the race and issue an apology to the business dragged into this mess.
Sex trafficking is no casual allegation
Treating the issue of sex trafficking so nonchalantly as to use it as a verbal attack in a political race is unacceptable.
Allegations about such links need to be factual, because trafficking is an ongoing, horrendous activity afflicting not just this country, but the entire world.
If you’re going to draw attention to an issue, do it for the right reasons. Such language needs to stop being used as fodder for political mudslinging, because it undermines the severity of a very real problem.
Despite living in an outrage culture where a tweet can incite a war, we shouldn’t need to be reminded that sex trafficking – a form of modern slavery – warrants a certain gravité.
Human beings are coerced and forced by traffickers who use lies, violence, threats and debt to engage them in sexual acts against their will. There’s a wide range of situations from imprisonment, to manipulative relationships or family members forcing one to sell sex, to false promises of a job, such as modeling.
The connection to Smith is tenuous
Rogers references a 2013 Missouri report from an ABC News affiliate about Model Mayhem, which has been sued in the past due to sexual predators posing as legitimate photographers.
But the third-party website is a hop, skip and pole-vault leap away from Smith. Rogers' ads question Smith’s relationship with a local modeling and talent agency, The Young Agency, which has advertised models on Model Mayhem. (For the record, The Young Agency has an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau).
Political ads may rely on vagueness, but such insinuations are dangerous.
Any type of inappropriate behavior or occurrences that could indicate something as severe as sexual trafficking would need to be thoroughly investigated. So, is that appropriate to use in a political ad against an opponent, when especially if it is unfounded, such comments jeopardize the reputation of a business, not just a candidate?
It seems to be taking a race too far. In a volatile time of misinformation, shouldn’t we hold politicians to the same standard of responsibility that we’ve lately been demanding from social media and the news?
Why water down such a serious term?
Using vocabulary like “sex trafficking” instead of generalizing occurrences as prostitution, is important, because it describes the full societal problem versus a legal infraction.
To mix such terms so casually into politics and discussions online, as we’ve seen more and more with QAnon and other such conspiracy theories, is distracting from the true issue.
In 2017, the International Labor Organization estimated that, around the world, nearly 24.9 million men, women and children are victims of human trafficking, and that population is disproportionately female and young.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline reported more than 8,500 human trafficking cases last year, with just more than 75 percent of those being sexual in nature.
This is a world where a 16-year-old girl in Sacramento was rescued by a postal worker after she managed to escape captivity, where for three months, she was drugged, beaten and sexually assaulted.
This is a world where children are raped tens of thousands of times, violent acts that fund a disgusting, underground billion-dollar industry.
But is it a world that permits politicians to take such a serious matter, water it down and twist it for selfish political gain?
Téa Francesca Price is a Pulliam Fellow for The Arizona Republic. Reach her at email@example.com.
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