She's had a front row seat to politics for more than three decades, but Cindy McCain never got in the game. "Well, it sounds naive coming from me, but it's true," she told Whispers. "That has always been my husband's job and I have had the advantage and the luxury of sitting back and watching it take place," she said of her life with spouse, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
But not anymore. McCain has gotten involved in the issue of human sex trafficking and doesn't mind getting a little angry and a lot political over it.
McCain's focus is on the women and children enslaved in the commercial sex industry here in the United States, especially in her home state of Arizona. "Kids are being systematically moved around the country for purposes of sex," McCain explained. (While the numbers are fuzzy, the FBI estimated in 2011that 293,000 youths were at risk.) These victims are forced to perform sex acts for little or no money. "And most people when they hear the word 'human trafficking' believe, 'well that happens in Cambodia, that happens in India, it doesn't happen here,'" McCain continued.
The traffickers bring their victims to big events like the Super Bowl, which McCain called the "largest human trafficking venue on the planet," when calling out the National Football League last month at aPolitico Women Rule event. "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," she said, making headlines at the time.
On Thursday, she continued to get riled up as she "dressed down" an attendee at the Human Rights First summit who skewed the issue. "I was not angry with him, but I am astounded when someone can stand up at a human rights summit dealing with human trafficking and make the statement that in his country they encourage women to go into the sex trade," McCain recounted to Whispers. "And the fact that somehow he thought it was OK, that was OK to do, was astounding to me...and I did, I lit up on him, I was angry at him," she said.
Besides being more and more of a public face on the issue, she's pulling political strings behind the scenes. She teamed up with Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, co-chairing the Arizona Governor's Task Force on Human Trafficking, so legislation is "ready to roll" come January when the state's legislative session begins. "We were actually really poor on the issue," she admitted. McCain also teamed up with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose state is hosting the Super Bowl this year, to do some work as well.
McCain's involvement stems from doing nothing a decade ago. "I was in India and this is about 10 years ago and...I was there with Operation Smile and I was finishing up and went shopping, like all good women do, right?" she began. McCain went in search of a sari for daughter Bridget. She entered a shop and heard a rustling below the floorboards. When she asked the shopkeeper about the noise he replied that it was simply his family. "But I finished payment and I was kind of looking around and I could look down through the slats a little bit...there was no family, it was a lot of little eyes, there were a lot of little girls below those floorboards," McCain said. "I walked out of the store and I never did anything...and it's haunted me ever since."
But now, without the constraints of being a maybe-first lady, McCain agreed that she can be more vocal. "I am more free to speak my mind," she said, but clarified. "Not that I would speak it any differently than my husband does."