Sex Trafficking

Southwest Airlines Falsely Accuses Mom of Trafficking Biracial Daughter

Plus: Backpage trial pushed back, Bidenomics doens't resonate, and more...


A woman is suing Southwest Airlines after flight staff accused her of trafficking her child. Mary MacCarthy was flying with her 10-year-old daughter, "MM," in 2021 when Southwest Airlines staff called the Denver Police Department and reported her as a suspected child trafficker.

MacCarthy is white, and her daughter is biracial. In a lawsuit against Southwest, MacCarthy alleges that she was suspected of trafficking her own daughter "for no reason other than the different color of her daughter's skin from her own."

"There was no basis to believe that Ms. MacCarthy was trafficking her daughter," states the complaint, filed August 3 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, "and the only basis for the Southwest employee's call was the belief that Ms. MacCarthy's
daughter could not possibly be her daughter because she is a biracial child."

MacCarthy and her daughter wouldn't be the first multiracial family to find themselves facing human trafficking allegations at the airport. We keep hearing about flying families or couples falsely accused of being involved in trafficking because they don't appear to be the same race or ethnicity.

It's happened with interracial couples and with parents of mixed-race or adopted children. Cindy McCain, wife of the late Sen. John McCain, infamously fabricated catching a child trafficker when she reported to police a woman traveling with a child who was "a different ethnicity" from her.

This situation isn't occurring in a vacuum. It comes amid a decadeslong moral panic about sex trafficking generally and child sex trafficking in particular. The panic has taken many forms, including the Department of Homeland Security encouraging War on Terror–style citizen surveillance campaigns ("if you see something, say something") to stop trafficking; states requiring airports to post human trafficking hotline numbers and awareness signs; and government-sponsored programs to train airline and airport staff to spot alleged signs of trafficking.

Most of the "signs" these people are trained to spot are nonsense—impossibly vague or broad. For instance, Airline Ambassadors International trains airline and airport staff (using a training program approved by Homeland Security) to keep an eye on "children, those who accompany them, and young women traveling alone" and people who seem "nervous." Training materials also tend to tell people to go with their gut instincts. Unsurprisingly, this leads to a lot of racial profiling, with ill-informed instincts about what a family "should" look like coming into play.

The wider campaign to "stop sex trafficking" via vigilance on airplanes and at airports is itself based on the faulty idea that human trafficking (a category that includes both labor trafficking and sex trafficking) is mostly done by brazen cabals of international traffickers ushering victims into the U.S. and Americans victims out, or shipping victims around the country. But in the U.S., labor trafficking tends to be concentrated in specific industries and to involve various forms of worker exploitation more than the covert importation of human beings. And in the sex trades, exploitation tends to take place at a much smaller scale, with individuals or small groups—often people the victim knows—perpetuating it. It also tends to take place in the communities people live in or with victims and traffickers traveling by car, not using commercial airlines.

Neither airlines nor the U.S. government have ever released any data to support the idea that these spot-a-trafficker trainings have led to criminals being apprehended or victims being rescued. Meanwhile, we hear stories like MacCarthy's again and again.

Denver cops stopped MacCarthy and MM as they exited the airplane and questioned them in a manner that "made it clear that they were given the racially charged information that Ms. MacCarthy's daughter was possibly being trafficked by her simply because Ms. MacCarthy is White and her daughter is Black," the complaint alleges. "After questioning, during which Ms. MacCarthy's daughter began to break down in tears, Ms. MacCarthy was eventually allowed to leave by the officers, but not before this display of blatant racism by Southwest Airlines caused Ms. MacCarthy and her daughter extreme emotional distress."


Backpage trial pushed back slightly. Following the death last week of Backpage co-founder James Larkin, the trial start date for the company's other co-founder, Michael Lacey, and other former executives has been moved from August 8 to August 29.

Larkin's family has issued a statement about this death. "His life and legacy embody the spirit of his home, the Sonoran Desert," they say. "Jim fearlessly blazed his own path in life and always stuck to it."

Techdirt's Mike Masnick weighs in on Larkin's death and the misleading popular narratives surrounding Backpage. "Contrary to the public narrative you may have heard, Backpage worked closely with federal law enforcement to actually stop sex trafficking (and not just take it down, but to track down the perpetrators)," he writes. "But they refused to do the same for consensual sex work and that is why the feds eventually came down on them like a ton of bricks, all while telling the media and politicians that it was for sex trafficking. But that was all bullshit."


Bidenomics doesn't resonate. Bidenomics—the name given to President Joe Biden's expansive economic agenda—isn't proving to be a big hit among the American populace, reports Politico. "Poll numbers show persistent voter skepticism about the state of the economy, and Republicans are working aggressively to take back the term, dubbing it as synonymous with tax hikes and inflation."

The administration is embarking on a big public relations push this week, pegged to the one-year anniversaries of laws like the Inflation Reduction Act, the CHIPS Act, and the PACT Act. But the best PR can't compete with people's own perceptions and experiences, and to many Americans the idea that things are much better now doesn't resonate.

"Democrats acknowledge that slapping Biden's name on the economy is a gamble, given the prospect of it moving in the wrong direction," notes Politico. "For that bet to pay off, the White House and Democrats will have to close the gap that currently exists between the statistics that suggest the economy is strong and the polls that find many Americans don't agree."

See also: "'Bidenomics' Is Nothing New."


• Republicans are trying to keep abortion off state ballots.

• In an NBC interview, presidential hopeful and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis stated unequivocally that "of course [Trump] lost" the 2020 election.

• In Etowah County, Alabama—where women are frequently charged with "chemical endangerment" of a child for drug use during pregnancy—a woman was jailed for two months for using CBD oil while pregnant.

• George Mason University law professor and Volokh Conspiracy blogger Ilya Somin attempts to clear up misconceptions about the latest Trump indictment.

• "Women in Texas with complicated pregnancies are exempted from a state abortion ban under a temporary injunction issued on Friday, with the judge citing a lack of clarity on the ban's medical exemptions," reports Reuters. "Travis County District Court Judge Jessica Mangrum in her ruling sided with women and doctors who sued Texas over the abortion ban."

• We don't need a war on screen time, writes Reason's Jacob Sullum.

• Three weeks into its run, Barbie has brought in more than $1 billion.

• "Asia, the world's factory floor and the source of much of the stuff Americans buy, is running into a big problem: Its young people, by and large, don't want to work in factories," reports The Wall Street Journal. "The problem is acute in China, where urban youth unemployment hit 21% in June even though factories had labor shortages."

• Faulty facial recognition results led to Porcha Woodruff's arrest when she was eight months pregnant. Now she's suing.

• Inside an abusive anti-porn camp for teens.