In “In Obama’s Speech, Their Voices” Mr. Kristof says these former sex slaves said the president gave the voiceless a voice in his landmark speech against human trafficking. Let’s hope this is a turning point. Ms. Collins says “Ohio Gets the Love,” and she has a question: Why do the undecided voters in Ohio get to have all the fun? They get Mitt, Barack, Paul, Jack Nicklaus and all kinds of special attention. Oh, Gail, honey… I survived one campaign living in Ohio. You couldn’t turn on the television without 10,000 political ads. I wound up hating everyone running for any office. Here’s Mr. Kristof:
When President Obama made a landmark speech against modern slavery on Tuesday, many of us in the news media shrugged. It didn’t fit into the political narrative. It wasn’t controversial, so — yawn — it wasn’t really news.
But women like Sina Vann noticed. She’s a friend of mine who was trafficked as a young girl from Vietnam into Cambodian brothels — where she was regularly punished by being locked inside coffins with scorpions and biting ants. Now an anti-trafficking activist with the Somaly Mam Foundation, she sent me an exuberant e-mail (in fractured English, her third language) with a message for Obama: “We are survivors here so proud of you, you are the big president in U.S. and you take action of trafficking. So you give victims from around the world have hope.”
Rachel Lloyd, a survivor of human trafficking who was nearly choked to death by her pimp, felt the same way. Lloyd now runs a superb program in New York City, GEMS, to help American girls escape “the life.” She told me that watching the Obama speech was “one of the most gratifying moments in my 15 years of work on the issue.”
If Representative Todd Akin’s remarks about “legitimate rape” provoked an uproar, shouldn’t it be incomparably more offensive that millions of human beings are still trafficked in the 21st century? Yet the world often scorns the victims and sees them as criminals: these girls are the lepers of the 21st century.
So bravo to the president for giving a major speech on human trafficking and, crucially, for promising greater resources to fight pimps and support those who escape the streets. Until recently, the Obama White House hasn’t shown strong leadership on human trafficking, but this could be a breakthrough. The test will be whether Obama continues to press the issue.
I’ve been passionate about human trafficking ever since I encountered a village in Cambodia 15 years ago where young girls were locked up, terrified, as their virginity was sold to the highest bidder. It felt just like 19th-century slavery, except that these girls would likely be dead of AIDS or something else by their 20s.
Granted, not all prostitution is coerced. Reasonable people can disagree about what to do in the case of adults who sell sex voluntarily. Put aside that disagreement, for we can agree to place priority on the millions of children and adults compelled to provide sex or other labor.
Prostituted kids are among the most voiceless of the voiceless around the world, and it will make a difference if the White House speaks up for them — and fights for them.
On the India/Nepal border, I once chatted with an Indian policeman who was on the lookout for terrorists and smuggled DVDs but was uninterested in the streams of Nepali girls passing through, destined for the brothels in Bombay and Kolkata. The policeman explained that America was pressuring India on movie piracy, so let’s show India and the world that we’re also concerned with enslaved children.
If we tell other countries to free their slaves, we also have to clean up our own act. Contrary to public opinion, the worst of America’s human trafficking arguably doesn’t involve foreign women smuggled into the United States, but homegrown girls.
It’s a disgrace that police officers and prosecutors routinely go after such teenage girls — often runaways fleeing abuse or other impossible situations — and treat them as criminals, while showing less interest in the pimps who exploited them.
Normally, if a man has sex with a young girl, he risks jail and she gets counseling. But, if she has a pimp who earns $50 from the transaction, then everything changes: The man may get a slap on the wrist and the girl may go to jail. Does that make any sense?
So let’s demand that police officers and prosecutors go after pimps and johns, while treating the teenagers as victims who need comprehensive social services.
Republicans have done superb work on this issue in the past, but now they’re balking at straightforward reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act — landmark legislation against human trafficking. What are they thinking?
One person on the front lines here in the United States is Alissa, who has a scar on her cheek from where her former pimp mutilated her with a potato peeler as a warning not to escape. She did get away and now works with prostituted girls in Washington whose average age, she says, is 14. Alissa is her street name; she doesn’t want her real name published because pimps still harass her.
Alissa watched Obama’s speech, and then replayed it four more times. She has always been treated as a “throwaway,” she said, and now she was dazzled that the president was treating the issue as a priority.
Some 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, let’s make sure that this isn’t just a speech, but a turning point.
Now here’s Ms. Collins, who’s in Westerville, Ohio:
In my next life, I want to be an undecided voter in Ohio.
Honest to gosh, can you imagine the love? If the Ohio Undecided Voter had a Twitter account, it would have 10 million followers. Each campaign would have an entire operation dedicated to watching it. People in China and Bulgaria who wanted to understand what’s going on in this election would just check in with #IhavenoideainSteubenville.
“October 2! Voting starts! Are you ready?” hollered Representative Pat Tiberi at a Romney rally in central Ohio Wednesday.
“Yeah,” the crowd returned, rather weakly. The dim response couldn’t have been because of a lack of commitment. These people were standing in line at dawn — at hours before dawn — to get in to see Romney and his celebrity guest endorser, the golfer Jack Nicklaus.
“The Golden Bear is here because he gets it!” cried Senator Rob Portman.
The Golden Bear was there to woo white male voters, the latest demographic that seems to be giving Romney trouble. Maybe the crowd sounded tentative because it knew the Republicans are definitely not ready. This week’s Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News poll showed Romney running behind Obama 53 percent to 43 percent in the state.
Even among the elite brotherhood of swing states, Ohio is sort of special, particularly to Republicans. It is known, at least to the Ohio Historical Society, as the “Mother of Presidents,” because eight inhabitants of the White House, all Republican, were from here. Admittedly, the first one lasted only four weeks, and the last one was Warren Harding.
No Republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio. Asked if Romney could manage it, political director Rich Beeson retorted: “If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas.”
Everybody’s an Ohioan. While Romney was at Westerville, President Obama was winging his way toward appearances at Kent State and Bowling Green. Paul Ryan allowed reporters to watch him go shopping in Ohio for a camouflage jacket for his 10-year-old daughter, who he claimed was practicing to go hunting this fall. “I just need to get her some clothes,” he explained.
People, would you consider this laying it on too thick? Even if Ryan’s little girl really is dying to get out there and bag a deer, don’t you think she’d want to try on her camouflage jacket before her father buys it? She might end up spending the entire fall in ill-fitting shooting gear.
President Obama has been here so much over the last four years that he deserves honorary membership in that Mother of Presidents roll call. He likes to tell his audiences that “Governor Romney said: ‘Let’s let Detroit go bankrupt.’ ” Then he quotes himself in the hour of crisis: “No, one out of eight jobs in Ohio depends on the auto industry.”
Let’s hope he’s fibbing. I really do not want to think that in the middle of the financial meltdown, the president’s first thought was what the collapse of the auto industry would mean to the big swing state. And if the pineapple industry runs into trouble, I don’t want the White House’s chief concern to be whether the voters of Ohio will be deprived of their upside-down cake.
Ohioans complain constantly about the burdens of swing-state status, particularly having to watch all those campaign ads. The rest of us are unsympathetic. My husband saw a presidential ad on ESPN the other day and was so excited that he taped it for me so we could watch it together and pretend we were the kind of citizens who need to be courted.
In Ohio, when you aren’t seeing Romney-Obama ads, you are seeing ads for the U.S. Senate, mainly for the Republican nominee, State Treasurer Josh Mandel. Ohio is the new Rich Right’s big Senate power play. Outside groups have poured a whopping $18 million into attempting to bury the incumbent, Senator Sherrod Brown.
It seems to have had no effect whatsoever: that Times poll has Brown 10 points ahead. Perhaps that’s because Mandel is stiff, policy-deprived and appears to be about 12 years old. “I thought Brown was vulnerable,” said Paul Beck, a political science professor at Ohio State University. “But Josh is — I don’t think he’s proven to be a very good candidate.”
The Republican establishment moans about the candidates that the Tea Party’s stuck them with. But, in Ohio, they got to pick, and they nominated somebody who looks like a cast member on “Glee.”
But I digress. Meanwhile, back at the Romney rally here in Westerville, Nicklaus was telling the crowd that he chose golf as his profession because it didn’t require teamwork. (“I didn’t lean on somebody else in tough times.”)
Then Nicklaus introduced Mitt Romney. “What you heard from the Golden Bear … the words he spoke, he touched my heart,” said the candidate. He then gave his stump speech, and the Already Committed cheered lustily.
The rest is all up to you, Undecided Voters. Although it looks as if in Ohio, the Romney camp will need some Changed My Mind recruits, too.