Every day for the last week, there’s been a new breaking story about Matt Gaetz. Yesterday, Politico broke more details on what now looks to be a criminal trip to the Bahamas in September 2018 with two of his colleagues, wherein five girls, several of whom were barely eighteen, were flown to the Bahamas on a private jet to “accompany” Gaetz and his friends, while Gaetz flew commercial.
According to Politico, “three of them looked so young when they returned on Beshears’ private plane that U.S. Customs briefly stopped and questioned him, according to sources familiar with the trip, including a woman on the flight.”
The Mann Act prohibits the transportation of any person over state lines for prostitution or any sexual purpose that can be charged as a crime. As well, using any electronic communication (like, say, a cell phone) to facilitate that transportation is also a violation of the Mann Act.
As a result, if these allegations result in an indictment, Matt Gaetz is in serious legal jeopardy.
What I keep thinking about, though, is the girls.
We keep the names of victims of sex crimes confidential for a reason. Privacy matters. I know this personally because when I took the man who groomed and then molested me from the ages of 12 to 16 to court when I was 20, I was able to file the civil action under my initials.
He turned 40 the year it stopped.
It’s a funny thing to me how Gaetz and his friends keep trying to write this off as “generosity” to his “partners.” The man who molested me gave me flowers, cards, birthday presents, all in the context of his practice as a family therapist. He claimed at the trial he was just being kind to a kid in need, that giving a 16 year old a dozen roses on Valentine’s Day in the context of a therapy appointment, and then telling her she had to leave them there as a part of “our secret,” was just generosity and ordinary kindness— nothing nefarious about it.
Lately, I keep thinking about how we’re everywhere, we women who have been preyed upon, violated and used by older men when we were teens. You pass us on the street every day, in your community, in your supermarket, at the dog park or in your place of worship.
The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports that one in five women have been raped in their lifetime. Of those, more than 43% reported their first rape or attempted rape occurred before the age of 18.
We are everywhere, yes, but also nowhere, because particularly for the likes of Matt Gaetz, we’re just the spoils of his privilege, commodities to be used, paid for and tossed away, with no thought to the damage nor to the rippling effects of what it means to traffic in the bodies of girls who have families, a future, whole lives ahead of them.
We are unseen most of the time, but we are here, generations of us, we who have lived through and escaped the Matt Gaetzes of the world.
This is who he is, and he is a part of a legacy. The likes of him, too, are everywhere.
The Mann Act was originally called the White Slave Traffic Act, just in case you were still wondering whether white supremacy is baked into every aspect of our laws. Originally designed to quell the rise of prostitution in the early 20th century, the Mann Act was passed just 45 years after the end of slavery. We here in America were totally fine with the trafficking and sale of Black folks for centuries, including for rape and forced birth to create more labor, but white women and prostitution across state borders for “immoral” purposes was a line we weren’t willing to cross.
Curiously, the historical context of the Mann Act has a resonance today. In the years leading up to the passage of the Mann Act in 1910, a series of pamphlets appeared in the public domain, claiming that:
“a pervasive and depraved conspiracy was at large in the land, brutally trapping and seducing American girls into lives of enforced prostitution, or 'white slavery.' These white slave narratives, or white-slave tracts, began to circulate around 1909." Such narratives often portrayed innocent girls "victimized by a huge, secret and powerful conspiracy controlled by foreigners", as they were drugged or imprisoned and forced into prostitution.
These tracts went so far as to claim that the young white women of America were being lured into prostitution at local “ice cream shops.”
I’ve thought a lot in the last few weeks about QAnon, about the insane conspiracy theories that claim that Hillary Clinton was running a child sex trafficking ring out of a pizza parlor in D.C., about the wild cult-induced claims that Democrats are a cannibalistic cabal of pedophiles.
The irony is that we really do have a sex trafficking problem in this country—one that is routinely exploited by white men of privilege like those who use QAnon supporters to anchor their power as it slips away in an increasingly aware and diverse America—and we know this, because in recent years, it’s gone all the way to the top.
The owner of the New England Patriots, a Trump supporter, patronized sex slave brothels masquerading as massage parlors in Florida, where Asian women were routinely trafficked for sex.
In 2019, an Arizona Republican official was charged in a human smuggling scheme whereby pregnant women from the Pacific Islands were trafficked into the United States and more than 75 of their babies sold for adoption.
In February of this year, a former digital strategist for the RNC was charged as a part of a federal investigation into a massive child sexual exploitation ring.
In 2018, the former Oklahoma chair of the Trump campaign was sentenced to 15 years for child sex trafficking.
That same year, a former Kentucky judge who served as a Trump delegate was charged with multiple human trafficking offenses, including paying children for sex and sometimes recording it.
These allegations go on and on and on.
We always point to the hypocrisy of QAnon and these men who claim to care about children but then use and abuse them at their leisure, discriminate against them if they are trans or Black or brown, deny them education and health care and social safety programs that secure those who need help, and to be sure, that hypocrisy is real.
But behind the hypocrisy is real human cost.
What becomes of the girls Matt Gaetz and his friends used for money and gifts? What becomes of them?
When the Matt Gaetz scandal first broke, there was barely a moment to breathe before it was observed that the 17 year old he is alleged to have shared with his friend Joel Greenberg is now an adult film actress.
I read the piece announcing that with not a small bit of trepidation.
At the trial of the man who molested me, which began when I was 22, I was subjected to a withering cross-examination by his counsel concerning my promiscuity since the molestation ended.
Yes, there was an expert witness who diagnosed me with PTSD, who testified that people who have been abused as children and teens tend to act out sexually in all sorts of ways.
It’s an effect, you see, of being taught by the adults who use us that our primary, and perhaps only value is in how our bodies can be used for the pleasure of others.
I “dated” a dozen or so boys my freshman year of college, where as a smart and precocious 17 year old who’d been pushed to skip grades due to my smarts, I was only slightly more than a year out of the last instance of molestation.
I got a “reputation,” as we used to say in those days.
That is, until a college professor, more than 17 years my senior, decided a couple of years later that I’d make a good conquest.
On our first “date,” I was 19 and he was about to turn 37. It was an abusive power dynamic from the start that lasted for years thereafter.
We who have been used and abused by older men as children often find that we’re more vulnerable to the next one who comes along than we might have expected. By then, of course, we are blamed for it, described as dirty and unworthy, sluts and whores, without any link in the chain of evidence back to the men who taught us that we were allegedly only good for one thing, and disposable at that.
And until we unpack our trauma, those lessons are compounded, over and over again, by the lack of accountability our society is willing to place on men in power who use and abuse, most often without any consequence at all.
I think often about that now-famous video of Trump and Epstein dancing at Mar-a-Lago in the 90s, about the group of young women into which Trump inserts himself and how Trump grabs the ass of one of them, pulls her to him roughly without asking, as Epstein looks on, laughing.
I think about the fact that still, to this day, we don’t know any of their names.
Let me tell you a little bit about what it’s like to recover from having been used for sexual purposes by an older man in a position of power when you’re a teenager.
The impact of it to your life never ends.
I turn fifty in a few weeks and I’m still unpacking what happened to me in that therapist’s office from 1984 to 1988.
I still have dreams where I am screaming at him about what he did to me.
I have been through every mode of therapy imaginable, from the most traditional Western talk therapy to formal soul retrievals with a Native American elder. The work of healing continues right up to the very minute that I am writing this.
It took me until I was 33, more than twice the age I was the last time I was molested, to be able to have anything approaching a healthy sexual relationship with a partner.
It continues to mark me to this day in my adult life, and even as a parent. My children will never, for instance, sleep over at another family’s house for as long as they are under my watch, because I know what can happen even with those you think you can trust, and I am determined that what happened to me won’t happen to them.
It never ends.
Though you may integrate the fact of being sexually abused by adult men into your story as you age, and though you may even find that survival and healing become possible at certain points along the way, you’re never the same, never who you would have been absent those events.
This is particularly true, in my experience, when the men who do it escape responsibility.
By the time I came forward to report what had happened to me, the criminal statute of limitations against the man who molested me had expired in the state where I grew up. Two years to report child molestation seems like a fairly long time to me now, but as a teenager struggling with the virulent shame of what had happened to me, unable to even speak it out loud? It went by in an instant.
The civil lawsuit I nonetheless filed against him settled out of court, paid for by his insurance company, not him. That money felt like blood money to me, and I spent the last of it shortly after finishing law school a few years later.
And the case against him that went to trial? That was a state case to take away his professional license. In that case, despite mountains of evidence of what he had done, the fact-finder determined that since “there were no witnesses”— never mind that *I* was a witness— he should merely have a suspended license for five years, not that his license should be revoked for good.
He never stopped practicing. In the decades since, he’s been accused, both formally and in the public domain, of sexually abusing more patients than I care to report.
He’s still alive, still working, still living without any real consequence.
And I’m still here, dealing with what he did.
This past Sunday, Matt Gaetz marched onto a stage in Florida for a speech at a Women for America First event, tightly gripping the hand of the white, wealthy twenty-six-year-old woman from a billionaire Trump-supporting family to whom he conveniently became engaged last December, shortly after his cell phone was seized by the FBI and he knew he was being investigated by the DOJ for federal child sex trafficking crimes.
On that stage, he said a lot of things that made no sense, like “they’re not coming for me, they’re coming for you,” that he is a target of a “deep state” smear campaign, and gallingly, that he is such a champion of women that he deserves credit for having “seen the potential unlocked with so many brilliant, patriotic women that I have had the chance to work with.”
The crowd clapped when he said it. Gaetz smiled.
Those nameless, faceless girls on that private jet to the Bahamas, in his hotel rooms on the road, the ones he used for cash, with whom he shared drugs and with his friends before, likely, forgetting all about them, were once girls with unlocked potential, their whole lives ahead of them, a boundless future that will now be forever tarred by having crossed paths with Matt Gaetz.
While he walks off into the sunset, his white woman enabler by his side, to applause.
And so it goes, for generations past and to the present day, until we stop it.
And so it goes.