SUSAN DENCH

Yes to wine tasting, no to sex trafficking victim protection: Where’s the feminist outrage now?

Posted Nov. 06, 2013, at 10 a.m.
Susan Dench
Susan Dench

Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, found herself at once horrified and inspired.

After reading a report by the Polaris Project ranking Maine in the bottom half of states for anti-human trafficking laws and listening to the co-founder of a human trafficking rescue organization speak at her church, she decided to introduce a bill that would let courts vacate the criminal record of prostitution charges for victims of sex trafficking. Basically, the law would have said the stigma of a prostitution conviction should not follow victims of sex trafficking for the rest of their lives when they had little to no control over their actions.

Volk didn’t go the usual legislative route of checking in with special interest lobbying groups to get their permission, timing and verbiage before submitting her bill. She simply acted to help women who are victims of horrendous crimes get their lives back on track.

This would seem like an uncontroversial, no brainer, bipartisan issue, something that feminists would be coming out of the woodwork to support, yes? Um, actually, no.

The Democrat-controlled Legislative Council voted 6-4 — on party lines — to kill the bill.

Under the Maine Constitution, to be considered in the second legislative session a bill has to be an emergency measure or budget-related, and the elite Legislative Council decides what gets to be heard. Well, the Democrats on the council apparently didn’t consider helping victims of human trafficking to be an emergency. But they made sure to approve a real “emergency,” Senate President Justin Alfond’s Act To Amend the Laws Regarding Special Food and Beverage Taste-Testing Event Licenses. Gotta make sure his swanky rich donors — you know, the much-discussed 1 percent — can dine in style on top-quality cheeses at their chichi wine tastings. That’s a real emergency.

Did we mention that among the Democrats who gave Alfond’s bill a thumbs-up and Volk’s bill a thumbs down was a woman, Assistant Senate Majority Leader Anne Haskell of Portland?

Because Democrats didn’t want a Republican woman to lead the charge on an important women’s issue, there were the perhaps predictable patronizing and sexist attempts from the state’s top Democrat to suggest that Volk was leading the attack on human trafficking not from principled motives but for political reasons.

Yep, Maine Democratic Party honcho Ben Grant dismissively and insultingly derided Volk’s submittal as a bid to “soften her hard edges.” Good grief. Did he actually say this with a straight face?

I also confess to being baffled at the crickets coming from congressional candidate Sen. Emily Cain, D-Orono. I thought she would have been first in line to take Legislative Council member Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, her Democratic primary opponent, to task for not supporting the women who would benefit from this bill.

Wouldn’t this be a great issue for Cain to take up? With an undergraduate degree in vocal music education, it’s time for Cain to find her voice and demonstrate the leadership qualities she is touting in her run for U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud’s vacated seat. This is all the more surprising considering Cain earned her EMILY’s List endorsement in part because of her “defense of women’s health care.” I’m guessing that allegiance to the Democratic Party was more important to Cain than the health of this particular class of woman.

And where is the Maine Women’s Lobby? The League of Women Voters of Maine?

Many a politician has made a career of telling people they are powerless victims who cannot fend for themselves but need the government to meet their every need. In fact, wasn’t that the entire rationale given for expanding Medicare? Here is a true case of powerless victims needing their government for compassion and a hand up and politicians playing games to keep them in the shadows of utter misery while they make sure their elite friends can have their wine-tasting parties.

One of the slogans that helped the Democrats win the last election was twisting every issue to be the imaginary conservative “war on women.” Yet, here we are with a bill that could actually provide real, tangible help to powerless victims of human trafficking, who are mostly women, and they couldn’t care less.

We’re still waiting to hear why Alfond, House Speaker Mark Eves and their cronies killed this bill. For the women who have chosen party-line politics over the victims of human trafficking, however, I am reminded of Madeleine Albright’s famous assertion, sent to me by one of my more vociferous critics: “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”

Maybe a few female Democrats should be getting fitted for their asbestos suits right now.

Susan Dench of Falmouth is founder and president of the Informed Women’s Network, which motivates fiscally responsible women to make an impact on the political process. Contact her at susan@susandench.com.

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