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Katie Britt's State Of The Union Border Trafficking Story Was Incredibly Misleading

A story about a sex trafficking victim shared by Sen. Katie Britt (R-Ala.) in her bizarre State of the Union rebuttal is coming under fire for the dishonest way it was used to attack President Joe Biden’s border policies.

In a seven-minute TikTok video, former Associated Press reporter Jonathan Katz explained how his lingering questions over the anecdote led him to the conclusion that Britt had “lied about something really horrific and really important.”

The actual content of the story is heart-wrenching. As Britt told it, she traveled to Texas just after taking office last year and “spoke to a woman who shared her story with me.”

“She had been sex trafficked by the cartels starting at the age of 12,” Britt said, going on to outline horrific acts of sexual violence that the woman said she endured as a child.

“We wouldn’t be okay with this happening in a third-world country,” Britt said with dramatic flair. “This is the United States of America, and it is past time, in my opinion, that we start acting like it. President Biden’s border policies are a disgrace. This crisis is despicable.”

There are a few problems with Britt’s framing of the story, though.

Britt did not name the abuse survivor in her State of the Union rebuttal directly, but Britt’s communications director, Sean Ross, confirmed to The Washington Post that the story was about an activist named Karla Jacinto Romero, as Katz had suggested.

While Britt made it seem like an example of recent lawlessness caused by Biden-era policies, the abuse Romero endured happened two decades ago, when George W. Bush was president. That fact alone has led many people on social media to ask how Biden can be to blame.

As he explained in his now-viral video, Katz unearthed a press release from Sen. Marsha Blackburn’s (R-Tenn.) office dated Jan. 11, 2023 — shortly after Britt was sworn in — describing a trip to Texas. Blackburn, Britt and Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) traveled to the southern U.S. border to assess the migrant situation Republicans have been railing against since Biden took office.

A photograph in the press release showed the senators holding a roundtable discussion alongside a Mexican congresswoman, a Fox News contributor and Romero. Britt later released a video from the trip showing her hugging the activist.

For years, Romero has been telling her story to raise awareness about sex trafficking — she also shared it during a congressional hearing in 2015.

In that sworn testimony nine years ago, Romero said that she was forced to have sex with thousands of men over four years of her life, starting at the age of 12, until she was rescued in 2008. Bush would have been president throughout that time.

Further, while Britt implied in her speech that Romero’s abuse had taken place in the United States, Romero testified that it actually happened entirely in Mexico. She made no mention of drug cartels.

Romero’s experience was also precipitated by her mother throwing her out of the house; she said she then “fell prey to a professional pimp.” As The Washington Post pointed out in its analysis of Britt’s speech, many sex trafficking victims are trafficked after being put in similarly vulnerable situations in countries all over the world.

HuffPost reached out to Britt’s office for comment but did not receive a response. Ross, Britt’s communications director, said in a written statement shared with other news outlets that “the story Senator Britt told was 100% correct.”

“There are more innocent victims of that kind of disgusting, brutal trafficking by the cartels than ever before right now,” the statement read. “The Biden administration’s policies — the policies in this country that the President falsely claims are humane — have empowered the cartels and acted as a magnet to a historic level of migrants making the dangerous journey to our border.”

Similar assertions by former President Donald Trump have been subject to heavy scrutiny from professional fact-checkers, who, for example, were unable to substantiate his anecdotes about sex trafficking in Trump’s 2019 State of the Union speech.

It remains true that a record number of migrants are attempting to cross at the U.S. border with Mexico, overwhelming border authorities. But efforts to address the situation with legislation have been foiled — in large part by pressure from Trump.

Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.

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