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Cindy McCain battles child trafficking

The Camp Verde Journal of Camp Verde, Arizona

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Attendees crowded Poco Diablo's conference room Wednesday, Oct. 14, to hear Cindy McCain address an issue few want to talk about — the sale and exploitation of children.

The keynote address of the Sedona Women's "Bought and Sold: Modern Day Slavery" forum began with an admittance of McCain's own: Though she had seen it in various forms during her travels, she did not at first recognize human trafficking for what it was. She could not wrap her mind around how widespread the problem was throughout the world.

"I didn't do anything," she said of her first encounter with a human trafficker: A Bangladeshi man who had trapped under his fabric shop dozens of young girls, their eyes visible to McCain through the floorboards. "I didn't know what to do.... I also didn't believe it could happen right here in Arizona."

McCain is the wife of U.S. Sen. John McCain [R-Ariz.]. The McCains own a ranch in Page Springs.

Following the incident in Bangladesh, McCain's awareness expanded-to account for what she now calls a "basic human rights crisis" that denies children the very freedom to be children —-to be with their families, safe from being used by others and then stigmatized themselves as criminals.

Thus, the McCain Institute for International Leadership began the Human Trafficking Conversation Series, with McCain at the helm, disseminating knowledge and effecting change statewide. McCain quickly got to work righting an oversight: Prior to 2014, Arizona had effected no legislation pertaining to human trafficking.

House Bill 2454 in 2014 and HB 2553 in 2015 changed that, allowing for greater criminal punishment of exploiters and decriminalizing victims of exploitation for certain charges made against them during adolescence.

"There is no such thing as a child prostitute," McCain said. She leaned forward on her lectern, speaking unambiguously about the people who are truly to blame: Those who traffic in children and those who pay to use children. "They're child abusers. They should be treated as such, and punished as such."

Recently back from a humanitarian trip to the island of Lesbos, Greece — where she witnessed 6,000 Middle Eastern refugees arrive on the shore in a single day — McCain made clear comparisons between the Syrian crisis and the plight of immigrants to the U.S. She described a similar "tidal wave of unaccompanied children" coming across the Mexican border, many of whom were allowed into the hands of people claiming to be relatives.

"They kind of dissolved into our country — many into the hands of human traffickers," McCain said, and returned to the subject of the refugee crisis in Syria. "Why is it relevant to us? Many of these refugees are unaccompanied minors. These children must not end up in the hands of human traffickers."

McCain turned her attention toward solutions, asking the crowd what they might do.

The first priority, according to McCain, is assuring that the state organizes a "uniform method of reporting" instances or suspicions of human trafficking. Using the example of Pinal County, where it is currently impossible for a school nurse to report his or her suspicion of exploitation, McCain called alterations to existing legislation essential.

The responsibility for change, as always, rests in great part in the public's hands: "All of you need to kick the ball down the road in your own neighborhoods," McCain said. "We all must cooperate.... Action must be our call to arms."

Music and film, as well, did not escape McCain's criticism. Hollywood in particular, she said, should be held accountable for failing to put more of its resources toward advocacy — toward public service announcements and proactive marketing to combat human trafficking — and for its portrayal of men and women.

"How about producing a movie that treats women with more respect?" McCain asked to rousing applause. "It's time we send a message to our little boys to respect women.... Unless it starts now, we may lose a generation."

As McCain admitted during private interview, the process of fighting human trafficking does still produce some frustration in her. The disbelief — the outright denial that such pervasive exploitation exists in local communities — continues to be one of the largest hurdles to productive communications and change.

Regardless, the largest obstacle is the nature of human trafficking itself. The industry, which according to McCain has "so many tentacles that reach so far," is astoundingly complex. All trafficking, she insisted, is interrelated.

"The local pimp is part of a much larger network," McCain said.

Zachary Jernigan can be reached at 282-7795 ext. 125 or

Child Trafficking Presentation

Come to a presentation to find out if human trafficking is a problem in the Verde Valley. The newly formed Verde Valley Coalition Against Human Trafficking will host the presentation Wednesday, Oct. 21, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Mingus Union High School, 1801 E. Fir St. in Cottonwood. Speakers will include Yavapai County Sheriff Scott Mascher and coalition members. Learn more about this opportunity where every citizen can make a difference and help protect children and the community.

RSVP to Call 592-3040 for more information.

Copyright 2015 The Camp Verde Journal, Camp Verde, Arizona. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: October 21, 2015

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