By LUCY MCCALMONT | 11/20/13 9:20 AM EST Updated: 11/20/13 11:32 AM EST
Cindy McCain slammed the National Football League on Wednesday for not being “willing to deal” with the issue of sex trafficking at the Super Bowl.
“Everybody else has been very helpful, the NFL’s not willing to deal with this issue, and I can’t answer why, I don’t know why,” McCain said during POLITICO’s Women Rule conversation series, co-sponsored by The Tory Burch Foundation and Google, which was hosted at The Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C.
McCain, the wife of Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, also said the Super Bowl is the “largest human-trafficking venue on the planet,” but she will be working to tackle the issue in their home state, which will be hosting the sporting event in 2015.
“We’re not working with the NFL. They don’t want to be worked with on this. So what we’re doing is working directly with our own team, the [Arizona] Cardinals as well as the organizations that are surrounding it,” McCain said.
McCain also emphasized to the audience of more than 125 people the importance of working with others in the community to tackle laws and the issue of sex trafficking in the U.S.
She said she is working “to make our legislators understand the importance of this. And not only that, but make sure the folks that really run the community, the businesses, the politicians, the women’s organizations understand that we all need to work together.”
McCain’s co-panelist agreed that sex trafficking is an issue that can, and should, be addressed across party lines.
“I think being able to re-frame this issue as a human rights issue, as an issue of child rape, has engaged lawmakers as parents,” said Malika Saada Saar who serves as special counsel on human rights at The Raben Group and as director of the Human Rights Project for Girls. “I think we’re in a moment where there are not a lot of issues that are bipartisan, but this is one of them.”
Also joining McCain and Saada Saar on the panel, which was moderated by Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren and POLITICO’s Anna Palmer, was Dr. Elizabeth J. Letourneau who is an associate professor in the Department of Mental Health, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University and director of the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse.
In addition to the Super Bowl, McCain emphasized the necessity of bringing the issue to another national stage: Congress.
“This issue’s not sexy on Capitol Hill yet, but we’re going to make it sexy and we’re going to make it loud enough so these guys have to listen to us and get this done,” McCain said, asking audience members to reach out to their own lawmakers.
McCain, a Republican, discussed the need for the federal government to address the problem of varying, or even non-existent, laws across the states in dealing with sex trafficking.
“I’m not a big proponent of the federal government getting involved in things, but this is one of the issues I think they should be involved in,” McCain said.
When asked how to address sex-trafficking, McCain and Saada Saar pointed to pushing for change both in states and on the Internet.
“There are, in some states, no existing laws to even help these kids at all, other states have a little bit. This has to be an an all-out effort to make sure that these governors understand that this is not only important but we’re going to make sure it happens,” McCain said.
But the Internet is a harder battle, McCain said.
“I don’t know the answer to the Internet and I don’t know how we stop an organization like Backpage, but they did with Craigslist. So it can be done, but it’s going to take a big movement to get rid of those guys, in my opinion,” McCain said.
Saada Saar spoke about her involvement in shutting down “adult services” ads on Craigslist in 2010, which included girls writing an open letter to the site’s owner about their experiences of being trafficked that was published in the San Francisco Chronicle and the Washington Post.
“Three weeks later, Craigslist sex ads were shut down,” Saada Saar said. “I will never forget that morning getting calls from some of the girls who were still out there saying, “Oh my God! The pimp’s are losing their minds because they can’t put us up for sale. We are no longer for sale.’”
Saada Saar praised Craigslist owner, Craig Newmark, for removing the ads.
“He has a conscious, which is why he shut it down,” she said, but said Backpage “is a business model” and called the sex ads a crisis and said the problem is a “culture of impunity.”