Cindy McCain, the co-chair of the Arizona Governor's Human Trafficking Council, testifies at a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing on September 27, 2017. Photo: SCIA

Cindy McCain apologizes after police refute claim of human trafficking

Cindy McCain, the wife of the late U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), apologized last week after reporting a false case of human trafficking but it's not the first time she has made unsubstantiated claims about children being victimized.

In testimony to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, McCain said she witnessed "six little girls" being trafficked at casino in Arizona. She did not disclose the location but said it was "just outside of Phoenix," where a number of tribes operate facilities.

"Native American girls and women are all too often trafficked by their own relatives, both on and off the reservation," McCain told the committee on September 27, 2017. "Indian gaming and urbanized tribes have presented us with a new set of trafficking issues."

"I witnessed with my own eyes six little girls lined up against a wall inside a casino just outside of Phoenix on display for customers," she continued. "These children were silent and visibly scared."

Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Oversight Hearing on "The GAO Reports on Human Trafficking of Native Americans in the United States"

And just like the alleged incident of trafficking at the Phoenix airport that she talked about in an appearance on KTAR News 92.3 FM last week, McCain said she alerted authorities to the presence of the purported victims. But she claims they were of no assistance.

"I contacted hotel security," she testified. "Unsure what they should do, security personnel allowed the children to remain at the casino."

"I have found that Native Americans are largely overlooked as victims," she added, to somewhat dramatic effect.

No one on the committee followed up on McCain's casino story during the hearing. But both she and her late husband, who served two terms as chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and championed legislation to prevent child abuse in Indian Country, also made dramatic claims about a notorious classified ad website that had long been accused of facilitating human trafficking.

"Websites like are knowingly exploiting Native Americans and Alaska Natives," the late senator said in his opening remarks.

"Because of their exotic beauty, Native American girls are also sold at a very high price on websites like," Cindy McCain, who appeared at the hearing as a co-chair of the Arizona Governor's Human Trafficking Council, said later during the hearing though she did not offer specifics.

"Backpage has been found to be complicit in writing the ads that vaguely attempt to disguise the sale of these precious children for sex," she continued. "In other words, Backpage knowingly promotes the abuse of our beautiful Native American children along with other ethnicities."

Witnesses at Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing on trafficking of Native Americans, from left: Gretta L. Goodwin, Tracy Toulou, Jason Thompson, Nicole Matthews and Cindy McCain. Photo: SCIA

Within six months of the hearing, the site was shut down by federal authorities and its co-founders were charged with facilitating prostitution. A trial is scheduled for January 2020, The Arizona Republic reported.

During the hearing, McCain was asked about the prevalence of human trafficking in Indian Country and about Native American trafficking victims. She acknowledged that such data is extremely limited, making it difficult to determine the extent of the problem.

"Proportionate to that, we tried to do the best we could on finding out how many or if there were any Native American victims involved in that," she said. "It is very hard to find. We were doing it off Backpage and we worked with several other tech companies to help us do this. It is very hard."

The Department of Justice has long refused to require the collection of such data, an issue that was raised repeatedly during the hearing. And, with the exception of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the federal agencies with law enforcement authority on reservations do not report whether a victim of trafficking is American Indian or Alaska Native.

"If you don't have the data, it can sometimes be really difficult to determine what services can be provided to a particular population," Gretta L. Goodwin, a director at the Government Accountability Office, told the committee.

The GAO has produced reports that explain the need to collect such data. Other government reports have showed that Native Americans are victimized at rates far higher than the general population and that Native women are more likely to be a victim of homicide than any other race or ethnicity.

As for the incident at the Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, it involved a child who was waiting with a woman "of a different ethnicity," McCain said. She claimed the woman was trafficking the child.

"I went over to the police and told them what I thought," McCain said on KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Mac & Gaydos program "They went over and questioned her and, by God, she was trafficking that kid."

The Phoenix police, however, told the Arizona media that they followed up on McCain's report and found no evidence of a crime or a child in danger.

" I apologize if anything else I have said on this matter distracts from 'if you see something, say something,'" McCain said in a February 6 post on Twitter after the police refuted her claim.

Read More on the Story
Cindy McCain claimed she thwarted human trafficking at Sky Harbor, police say she didn't ((3TV/CBS 5 February 6, 2019)
Cindy McCain steps back from her report of human trafficking at Sky Harbor Airport (The Arizona Republic February 7, 2019)
Cindy McCain Thought She Spotted Human Trafficking. But There Was No Crime, Police Say. (The New York Times February 7, 2019)
Cindy McCain backtracks after police refute her story of saving child from human trafficking at airport (The Washington Post February 7, 2019)
Cindy 'Sherlock' McCain’s False Claim Is Symptom of Human Trafficking Hysteria (The Phoenix New-Times February 8, 2019)
Cindy McCain apologizes after reporting human trafficking incident that police deemed unsubstantiated (CNN February 9, 2019)

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