Human trafficking advocate Cindy McCain awarded for lifetime achievement at Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Awards

09/17/2016 11:59 AM

LOUISVILLE — When humanitarian and businesswoman Cindy McCain took the stage to accept her Lifetime Achievement Award at Saturday’s Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Awards, the moment she encountered the horrors of human trafficking weighed heavy on her mind.

It happened while shopping during a trip to Kolkata, India, years ago. As she detailed to NPR earlier this year, she spotted dozens of little girls’ eyes spying her between slats in the kiosk’s flooring.

She didn’t do anything then, but “one person can make a difference” in the battle against human trafficking.

“And I could have made a difference that day,” McCain, co-founder of the McCain Institute and co-chair of the Arizona Governor’s Council on human trafficking, told Pure Politics before she accepted her award at the Louisville Marriott Downtown.

“I’m just glad I’m here now.”

McCain, wife of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., accepted the award on behalf of victims of human trafficking before a crowd of 700 at the awards ceremony.

She implored the audience to “educate yourselves about human trafficking.”

“It is domestic,” McCain said. “It is in your own neighborhoods. Right here, it is right here in Louisville. Let’s end human trafficking altogether. I know we can do this.”

The FBI has estimated as many as 293,000 American youths are at-risk of becoming victims of human trafficking, a global issue that many associate with developing countries more so than the U.S. But McCain has worked to raise awareness of the issue domestically, and states have taken notice.

In Kentucky, a new law hit the books in 2013 to stiffen penalties against human traffickers, offer services for victims and make it easier for police to seize assets in human-trafficking cases.

McCain said states’ responses to the issue have varied.

“There are some specific laws that are in place,” she said. “Other states have more generic laws, but the point of all this is that all 50 states are taking an active interest in trying to stop human trafficking.”

McCain’s interest in human trafficking isn’t limited to sexual crimes. In Arizona and elsewhere, labor trafficking is a concern as well, and McCain called it “a huge issue within the human trafficking arena.”

“It is all too often mired with immigration or illegal immigration, so the issues with how this is handled and how we treat labor trafficking versus labor trafficking is a little bit different,” she said. “Both are equally as horrid. They’re equally dangerous for women, children, men, women in all this, but all of us that work on this issue realize that we have got to take an interest in that.

“I come from a state that has seen men packed in containers shipped over the border specifically for labor trafficking and half of them dead because it was too hot, so we are working very hard on this issue on a domestic level.”

On the political front, McCain’s husband has had his moments in the spotlight during this year’s presidential race. His party’s nominee, Donald Trump, said he was not a war hero because he was captured and held as a prisoner during the Vietnam War, one of several statements that have drawn rebukes from fellow Republicans.

For McCain, her family is focused on the senator and former GOP presidential nominee’s re-election campaign. John McCain won his Aug. 30 primary contest by nearly 13 points and leads his Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, by 13.7 percent in recent polling, according to Real Clear Politics.

“This has been a year like no other year in politics,” said Cindy McCain, noting her husband’s support for Trump. “… We still have a Democratic opponent, so we are right now concerned with our own race, and hopefully we’ll have a good outcome in November. I think we will. John McCain’s a good man, and I think he should be re-elected.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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