Criminalizing Sex Work to Combat Trafficking: Rhode Island Considers the Wrong Solution to the Wrong Problem

Andrea Ritchie

The State of Rhode Island seems poised to take a significant step backwards on its legal treatment of both sex work and trafficking when legislators resume their session this fall.

The State of Rhode Island seems poised to take a significant
step backwards on its legal treatment of both sex work and trafficking when legislators resume their session this fall. Local advocates expect that lawmakers
will reconcile two bills, House Bill 5044A and Senate Bill 0986A, both of which
would institute criminal penalties for consensual commercial sexual exchanges
which take place indoors. Failing that, the Mayor of Providence, David N.
Cicilline, wants to issue an Executive Order that would do the same when the
City Council reconvenes in September.

 

In
the early 1980s, Rhode Island criminalized virtually all sex outside of
marriage. That changed when a lawsuit was filed by the sex workers’ rights
organization COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics), on the grounds that the
statute was overbroad and discriminatorily enforced against women engaged in
sex work. In their haste to amend the statute to bring it into compliance with
the federal Constitution, Rhode Island legislators inadvertently cut out provisions
specifically criminalizing solicitation, leaving only the language criminalizing
street-based prostitution. No one noticed for about 20 years, while arrests,
prosecutions, and convictions for indoor prostitution continued.

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A few years ago an enterprising defense
attorney started successfully moving to dismiss charges relating to consensual
commercial sexual exchanges taking place indoors, on the grounds that such
conduct was not, in fact, illegal under the Rhode Island law. Since then, there
have been increasingly vocal calls to recriminalize indoor prostitution.  Up until recently, such efforts were
largely unsuccessful. This year, the issue gained traction following an assault
of a Rhode Island woman by Phillip Markoff, dubbed the “Craigslist killer.”
Before breaking for the summer, the state House and Senate passed two different
bills, both of which would criminalize all forms of prostitution, regardless of
where it takes place.

Advocates
for the legislation claimed that it is absolutely necessary to criminalize all
forms of prostitution in order to fight trafficking in persons. 

“Criminalization of
those you seek to help is not the answer,” responded Dr. Penelope Saunders of
the Best Practices Policy Project in
a letter opposing the legislation.  The
letter went on to state:

 

 In our experience, the
criminalization of prostitution forces women, men and transgender [people] who
engage in commercial sex to the margins, away from service providers and
advocates who could help them. The
Move Along report released in 2008 [by D.C. based organization
Different Avenues]
http://www.differentavenues.org/MoveAlongReport.pdf found that laws against
prostitution prevented these communities from accessing assistance from the police
even in extreme situations of rape and physical violence. Unfortunately when
sex workers went to the police to receive help, the pervasive stigma and
discrimination bolstered by laws prohibiting prostitution meant that police
officers often dismissed these calls for help, failed to respond appropriately
or at times arrested those in need of assistance.

 

The
Sex Workers Project http://www.sexworkersproject.org,
a
New York City based organization which has provided legal and social
services
to scores of trafficking victims over the past seven years, concurred
in a
memorandum submitted to the Rhode Island Senate:

The reality is that
such a measure is likely to cause severe
harm to victims of human trafficking by subjecting them to repeated
arrest,
incarceration, and retraumatization, without increasing the likelihood
of
locating, identifying, or assisting trafficking victims
.

Proponents of the legislation
repeatedly claimed that, in the absence of a state law criminalizing indoor
prostitution in Rhode Island, law enforcement’s hands are tied, and they are denied
the tools they need to fight trafficking or protect minors in prostitution. In reality, existing federal and state
anti-trafficking laws, as well as existing criminal provisions against
kidnapping, extortion, assault, rape, and indentured servitude, give state and
federal law enforcement and prosecutors a panoply of tools to pursue those who
harm people who are engaged in prostitution without collateral damage to
victims of trafficking.

After all, labor trafficking can be – and is – prosecuted
without criminalizing picking tomatoes, domestic work, or waiting tables in a
restaurant. F
ederal anti-trafficking law also prohibits and severely
punishes inducing a minor into prostitution, even where no force, fraud or
coercion is used, regardless of the status of state laws.

Some claimed that police need to
be able to arrest trafficking victims in order to be able to get them away from
traffickers and help them. Law
professor Ann Jordan, Director of the
Program on Human Trafficking and Forced Labor at American University Washington
College of Law
points out that blanket arrests of people engaged in prostitution in
the hopes of encouraging trafficking victims to come forward and testify
against their traffickers has the effect of using a blunt instrument where
careful, well-informed surgical strikes are needed.

"It is a weapon we wouldn’t
dream of using against any other victim – for instance, we would never argue
that we need legislation that allows us to arrest victims in order to stop
domestic violence."  The purpose of
the criminal law, Jordan says, is to prosecute criminals, not to twist victims’
arms into recognizing their victimization. Steven Brown, legislative counsel of
the ACLU of Rhode Island agrees: “It is a cruel public policy that forces
trafficked women to trade one set of bars for another,” he says.

In his article Sex Trafficking: Identifying Cases and Victims, published by the
National Institutes of Justice Journal, Robert Moossy, Director of the Human
Trafficking Prosecution Unit in the Civil Rights Division of the United States
Department of Justice, advocates focused, in-depth investigations of suspected
trafficking operations, not indiscriminate arrests of potential victims. According to Moossy, the fight
against human trafficking requires the voluntary cooperation of victims,
obtained by building trust over the long term and offering much needed support
to overcome fear of retaliation by traffickers, and by addressing the
circumstances that render victims vulnerable to coercion.

The findings of SWP’s most recent human
rights documentation project, Kicking
Down the Door: The Use of Raids to Fight Trafficking in Persons
, are consistent with these trafficking experts’ experiences. One of the primary findings
of our report was that focusing on enforcement of prostitution statutes to
address human trafficking has led to the identification of very few victims of
trafficking into prostitution. Even more disturbingly, it can contribute to
further traumatizing and isolating them.
Trafficked women reported that
they were repeatedly arrested, in some cases up to ten times, in police raids
on brothels and other sex work venues, convicted of prostitution, and even
sentenced to jail without ever being identified as trafficked. Their
experiences were corroborated by interviews with service providers who had
worked with hundreds of trafficking victims over the years.

Law enforcement personnel interviewed
for SWP’s report described difficulties gaining the trust of people arrested as
part of anti-prostitution efforts, and noted that they were often not good
witnesses in the prosecution of their traffickers. This is certainly consistent
with the experience of the Providence Mayor’s “outreach” team, which has not
successfully identified or assisted a single trafficking victim during raids on
spas and brothels. As one law enforcement agent put it:  “The nature of the crime and the nature
of the victims make raids not effective. What level of evidence do you need?
You need a victim to be willing to open up and tell you.”

A service provider made
the point more bluntly, “it’s incongruous to think that you would open up after
being handcuffed.” SWP’s experience, and that of other service providers, is
that trafficking victims are identified after months of building trust in the
offices of social service agencies providing supportive counseling, not immediately
following arrest in a police station under interrogation and the threat of
criminal charges, deportation, or both.

Much has been made of
the fact that the House Bill would allow people who have been trafficked to
assert an affirmative defense to prostitution charges. However, Jordan points out that the availability of an
affirmative defense is not a suitable answer to the concern that the proposed
legislation would lead to arrests of trafficking victims:

 

Proving
trafficking or another crime would become the woman’s responsibility, which she
would have to assume right after she is arrested…[when] she is most likely to
be afraid, unsure and unable to speak clearly and honestly. Who would help
these women collect this evidence? The vast majority of the women will be
represented by public defenders who have very limited capacity and time and
little funding to mount a lengthy and complicated defense based on trafficking.
Most prostitution cases are moved quickly through the system and most public
defenders spend very little time with their clients and build the kind of trust
required for a victim of trafficking to disclose her situation. Thus, it is
highly probable that the overwhelming majority of victims of trafficking would
be arrested and prosecuted multiple times for prostitution under the proposed
bill without ever being recognized as victims.

The
Senate bill, while not as draconian as the house bill, still imposes hefty fines,
ranging from $250 to $1,000 – which, as the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU points
out, creates additional obstacles for people trying to move past a criminal
conviction
.

Once
the notion that legislation criminalizing indoor prostitution was required to
address trafficking in persons was largely debunked in the media, the real
motivation behind the bills, and particularly the House legislation, became
apparent – punishing women who engage in prostitution. However, in the end, neither
piece of legislation is likely to have much of an impact on the incidence of
prostitution. As Jordan says:

 

Many women
who engage in prostitution do so for reasons of economic insecurity or
substance abuse. They would not legally qualify as trafficking victims but may
qualify as victims of any number of other crimes. The bill would saddle these
women with a criminal record, cause them to forfeit their limited assets, and
go into debt to the state, all of which would have the effect of making it even
more difficult for them to leave prostitution and find alternate employment.
Women in prostitution need nonjudgmental support and assistance, not arrest
detention and prosecution.

 

The Rhode Island Chapter of the National Organization of
Women
agrees, emphasizing that prostitution is “a complex, social and political issue
that cannot be solved by increasing rates of incarceration for the prostitutes.”
Josephine Martell, RI NOW’s legislative chairperson explained

 

We wish to reduce the
unnecessary incarceration of sex workers that this bill proposes, because we
believe that this actually increases the likelihood that they will return to
prostitution.

 

There is little question that criminalization of
prostitution decreases choices available to people engaged in sex work rather
than increasing their options to leave the industry or a trafficking situation.
SWP’s research indicates that the vast majority of individuals engaged in prostitution
do so for survival or to meet economic needs
.


Fines and asset forfeitures
only
further entrap women in the very dire economic straits that so often motivate
them to voluntarily engage in prostitution or which render them vulnerable to
trafficking or coercion in the first place. As the ACLU of Rhode Island notes,
under the asset forfeiture provisions of the proposed legislation:

 

…women are likely to lose
whatever little money or property they have if they are arrested, making any
efforts to turn their lives around even more difficult.

 

Additionally, once saddled with a criminal record, sex
workers have fewer options for legal employment, and can be shut out of public
housing, evicted from private housing, lose custody of their children or be
denied immigration status, further increasing their vulnerability to abuse and
trafficking. In short, being arrested for prostitution increases the likelihood
that people will be pushed by circumstance or coerced into continuing to engage
in prostitution as their only option for survival.

Currently, 25% of women incarcerated at the state
correctional facility for misdemeanor offenses are there on
prostitution-related charges. According to the Family Life Center of Rhode
Island, reforming RI’s prostitution laws would reduce the RI female prison population
by at least 15 percent
.
A report released by the
FLC last month concluded that “the state could save half a million dollars in
law enforcement and incarceration costs by not arresting and incarcerating
people for working as prostitutes.” Groups like Rhode Island NOW argue that these
funds could be used much more effectively for social services and education
that increase the options available to women currently engaged in sex work. “
The idea is by taking a different stance instead of a purely
punitive one that costs lots of money and is essentially throwing money down
the drain, that you can invest that money in social programs that would address
all the different problems that people are talking about,” said Mimi Budnick of
the advocacy group Direct Action for Rights and Equality.

 Brown concludes:

If the legislature wants to
seriously address prostitution, it should address poverty, cuts in the
education budget, a lack of affordable housing and a shortage of mental health
and addiction treatment services…

Much
of the impetus for the bill has arisen from a concern that Rhode Island is the
only place in the U.S. “outside of a few counties in Nevada” to have eliminated
criminal penalties for some forms of prostitution. However, in this respect,
Rhode Island finds itself on the cutting edge of a growing trend towards recognition
that arrests of sex workers ultimately help no one. As Ronald Weitzer, a
Professor of Sociology at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and
author of Sex for Sale: Prostitution,
Pornography, and the Sex Industry
(Routledge Press) puts it in an op-ed
published in the Providence Journal,
 
“increased criminalization is
not the answer.” In fact, Dr. Weitzer states:

 

Rhode Island’s two-track policy
regarding street and indoor workers — where those indoors are not subject to
arrest — is a model for other states, and many police departments already
follow this policy informally.
 

By continuing with this
enlightened approach, Rhode Island would by no means stand alone. For instance,
New Zealand decriminalized prostitution in 2003.

 

Nor would maintaining the
status quo turn Rhode Island into a haven for sex trafficking. A government
commission in New Zealand found no link between the decriminalization of the
sex industry and human trafficking. 

In fact, the United Nations Human Rights Commission Trafficking in
Persons report for 2008 notes that the incidence of international trafficking
in New
Zealand is “modest.”

Rhode Island legislators’
concern for victims of trafficking is laudable. But they should examine
successful approaches to human trafficking rather than repeat the mistakes of
the past by penalizing its victims. If
Rhode Island is serious about combating trafficking in persons, Jordan makes
the following recommendations:

A more cost-effective,
targeted approach to the issue would be to ensure that state law includes (1)
trafficking into forced labor, slavery, servitude and debt bondage in order to
ensure that people trafficked into farms, factories, homes, streets, brothels
and other sites are protected, (2) state-funded services for victims so that
NGOs can provide the type of support discussed by Moossy for safe and healthy
survivors, and (3) ample funding and training for law enforcement to be able to
carry out the type of investigations recommended by Moossy.

 

Hopefully, when Rhode Island
legislators come back in
session after the summer break they will find the courage
to go
forward, not backward, in the fight against human trafficking by strengthening
state anti-trafficking legislation rather than rushing to
judgment and enacting legislation that would expand penalties for prostitution that will
ultimately have the effect of punishing victims of trafficking and other
crimes, and pushing them further from help. 

Culture & Conversation Violence

Breaking Through the Fear: How One Woman Investigated the Life of Her Rapist

Ilana Masad

Ignorance is caused by fear, reporter Joanna Connors writes, and it is with this attitude that, 21 years after she was raped, she begins the process of trying to understand the man who raped her, the man she thought “would be the last human being [she] would see on this earth.”

She was fine. That’s what she told everyone, including herself. After filing a report with the Cleveland police and getting her rapist locked up, she was fine. Fine, fine, fine. Except she wasn’t.

In I Will Find You: A Reporter Investigates the Life of the Man Who Raped Her, reporter Joanna Connors realizes that she is most assuredly not fine during a college campus visit with her daughter.

Ignorance is caused by fear, Connors writes. And it is with this attitude that, 21 years after she was raped—she immediately reported her rape to the police, and her rapist was caught the next day—she begins the process of breaking through the fear to understand the man who raped her, the man she thought “would be the last human being [she] would see on this earth.” She had thought she was over it, but it wasn’t until breaking down during that college tour that she realized she was still afraid of her rapist and still terrified he would find her.

When Connors was 30, she went to a Case Western Reserve University theater where a rehearsal of a play that she was covering for her newspaper, Cleveland’s Plain Dealer, was taking place.

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A man inside the empty theater—the actors had left by the time Connors arrived—beckoned her inside, saying that he was working on the lights. Then, brandishing a sharpened pair of scissors, he threatened to kill her if she didn’t do what he said and spent more than an hour raping her.

The chapter detailing her rape is chilling, as she describes the various acts performed, the way she went along with what her rapist told her to do, coaxing him on, hoping to make the ordeal end more quickly. By describing specifics of her rape, Connors is confronting and stripping away the shame she experienced by showing the reader the cold, hard facts of what a rape can be like.

Her words demonstrate how a person who was raped becomes a survivor. Even in her dissociative state, she didn’t want to die there at the hands of a man she didn’t know. She managed to convince him to stop and leave, and he kissed her goodbye outside, as if what had just happened was completely, utterly normal. Maybe, for him, a man whom she says was smoking menthols and who had a tattoo on his arm with his own name on it—”DAVE”—it was.

Connors found an eerie irony in that she was raped on a college campus before such rapes were more widely discussed. In recent years, there has been a rise in awareness regarding the frequency of rapes at institutions of higher learning. There are now websites dedicated to explaining the statistics as well as documentaries like The Hunting Ground, which explores the sexual violence that happens on U.S. college campuses and how students are pushing back against institutional cover-ups and injustices. Since Connors’ experience, society has begun to more broadly understand the terms “rape” and “sexual assault,” and there has been more discussion about the rapes and sexual assaults that happen within existing relationships; eight out of ten rapes occur between people who know one another.

It’s perhaps less common these days to find discussions of the other kind of rape: the kind that we’re warned about when we’re young and told not to take candy from strangers, the kind that makes us automatically cross the street when a group of men we find threatening happens to be walking toward us, the kind that happens when a complete stranger attacks us. This was Connors’ experience.

I Will Find You takes the reader through two distinct processes. The first is Connors’ discovery that her rapist may have been a sexual-violence survivor in his own right. The second, which carries the narrative, is how Connors came to terms with how being raped by David Francis, the “DAVE”-tattooed man, separated her life into a “before” and an “after.”

Before the rape, she was a reporter who lived largely without fear. Connors explains that she went into the theater, where her rapist, a young Black man, was beckoning her, for one reason: “I could not allow myself to be the white woman who fears black men.”

But after, she writes, “this new fear of black men shamed me more than the rape.” Connors explains she didn’t want to be the stereotypical white woman of privilege, who clutches her purse and crosses the street when she sees a Black man walking her way. As a woman aware of her socioeconomic and racial privilege, she didn’t want to participate in oppression.

But it wasn’t just Black men that she feared—it was everything:

I turned my life into performance art. I acted normal, or as normal as I could manage, all the while living on my secret island of fear. As time went on, the list of my fears continued to grow. I was afraid of flying. Afraid of driving. Afraid of riding in a car while someone else drove. Afraid of driving over bridges. Afraid of elevators. Afraid of enclosed spaces. Afraid of the dark. Afraid of going into crowds. Afraid of being alone. Afraid, most of all, to let my children out of my sight.

From the outside, my performance worked. I looked and acted like most other mothers. Only I knew that my entire body vibrated with dread, poised to flee when necessary.

Years after her rape, Connors tells her children about it—both were born after the living nightmare in the theater and are college-aged by then—and begins to confront the fact that she has never “gotten over” it, even though she’s told countless therapists that she has. It is then, despite her husband’s protests and her own fears, that she decides that she must also confront her ignorance regarding her rapist and find him, just as he once threatened that he would find her.

Connors’ investigation is difficult, as she finds out almost at once that her rapist died in a prison hospital some years before. This, however, doesn’t stop her: She begins to investigate his family, trying to find anyone who may have known him and could explain, perhaps, why he did what he did.

Connors regards what she finds out about her rapist with empathy. Connors doesn’t forgive and forget—rather, she forgives, in a sense, by remembering, by finding others who remember, by dredging up a past that is as unpleasant for her interviewees as it is for her.

She eventually gets support from her newspaper to research and write her own story. At every one of the interviews, she expresses discomfort with what she’s doing and almost backs off. Pushed on by her photographer co-worker—and her own need to know—she continues on what has become a journalistic mission. Connors knows she is intruding into people’s lives and realizes she’s coming from a place of privilege, but ends up relating to so much of their stories that she finds her rage toward her rapist fizzling.

It’s with great care, too, that Connors treats the racial tensions that arise during her investigation. Connors talks to women of color who, in 2007 when she conducted her interviews, had never reported their rapes: “I know about rape,” one of Francis’ relatives says. “I was raped myself. Three times. But I asked for it because I was on drugs and I was prostituting.” Connors tells the woman that she didn’t ask for it or deserve it, but the woman tells her the story of how one of her rapes happened and concludes with: “And besides that […] he was a white guy.” This woman felt that nothing would be done about it, even if she did report it.

Connors also writes that in her case, she served as the “perfect witness”; she explains that her rape “isn’t [hers] at all. It’s the state’s, as in The State of Ohio v. David Francis.” The prosecutor tells her: “You’re the ideal witness,” because she is “a journalist, trained to observe details and remember them.” She adds:

I know what he really means. To him, I’m the perfect victim because I happen to fulfill just about all the requirements of a woman accusing a man of rape, going back before the Civil War. I am white, educated, and middle-class. I resisted, and I have a cut on my neck, bruises still healing on my spine, and a torn and blood-stained blouse to prove it. I immediately ran to report the rape.

Needless to say, David Francis is the perfect defendant: black, poor, and uneducated, with a criminal record.

In fact, as she finds out during her investigation, her assailant was both Black and Native American, and spent his youth in and out of juvenile detention, starting at age 12. Connors looks at the racial disparity in prisons, at the rate of poverty in the areas of Cleveland that she visits, at the way socioeconomic status and race are interwoven, how violence and drug abuse feed into those factors as well, and how sexual assault and abusive environments are so often passed down through generations. Connors discovered fellow survivors in her rapist’s family—his sister Laura, with whom Connors is still in touch, described her mother’s boyfriend raping her in a church. His entire family, she discovers, have been survivors of one kind or another.

Connors believes that her rapist was likely raped himself. During her assault, she had a clear feeling that Francis was re-enacting something done to him. And after learning that rape was common at the juvenile detention center where Francis did many stints, she assumes that he had been abused there and during his time spent locked up as an adult.

What is most striking about Connors’ book is not its bravery—though it is brave—or its shock value, which exists. The book is valuable because Connors recognizes and conveys to readers the cyclical nature of abuse, its pathological nature, and one of its sources: in David Francis’ case, perhaps learning by example.

Analysis Politics

Campaign Fact-Check: Ted Cruz Falsely Claims the Affordable Care Act Pushed Single Moms to Part-Time Work

Ally Boguhn

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) falsely blamed the Affordable Care Act for keeping “single moms” in part-time jobs, ignoring his own opposition to policies that could actually help single parents living in poverty.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) falsely blamed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) this week for keeping “single moms” in part-time jobs, ignoring his own opposition to policies that could actually help single parents living in poverty.

Speaking at a campaign rally Monday in Las Vegas, Nevada, ahead of the state’s Republican primary, Cruz suggested that the ACA has worked as a barrier to keep single mothers from working full-time because they are instead forced to work multiple part-time jobs:

You know, the media tries to tell us that the Obama-Clinton economy is the new normal. That stagnation is what we should come to expect. That there’s nothing better. We have the lowest percentage of Americans working today since 1977. Wages have been frozen for 20 years. Median wages today are the same as they are, as they were in 1996. Now that has been driven by illegal immigration that Washington refuses to solve, and that has been driven by economic policies that hammer the living daylights out of small businesses …. Single moms, struggling to feed their kids, working two, three, four part-time jobs because Obamacare doesn’t let them work full-time. Seeing their wages held stagnant, driven down—all of that can turn around. And if we do the two major legislative initiatives I’m campaigning on—if we repeal Obamacare and pass a flat tax—we will see millions and millions of high-paying jobs for people struggling to achieve the American dream.  

But this assessment was utterly wrong. Not only did Cruz get the basic facts about the ACA’s effects on jobs incorrect, he also failed to take into account the policies that could actually help improve the lives of single mothers—many of which he has actively opposed. 

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A January study in policy journal Health Affairs found “little evidence” to support some lawmakers fears that the ACA’s employer mandate, which requires those with more than 50 full-time employees to offer health insurance, would shift many full-time workers to part-time as employers attempted to side-step the law. Although the study found small changes to part-time work among some groups, CNBC reported, this “could not be attributed to the Obamacare employer mandate.”

A September 2015 survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust similarly found that between January and June 2015, the vast majority of employers did not push employees to part-time work or reduce the number of people they hired because of the ACA:

The percentage of firms that offer health benefits to at least some of their employees (57 percent) and the percentage of workers covered at those firms (63 percent) are statistically unchanged from 2014. Relatively small percentages of employers with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees reported switching full-time employees to part time status (4 percent), changing part-time workers to full-time workers (10 percent), reducing the number of full-time employees they intended to hire (5 percent) or increasing waiting periods (2 percent) in response to the law.

This is not the first time Ted Cruz has falsely claimed the ACA pushed people to part-time work. During a January GOP debate, Cruz said that the health-care law “is the biggest job-killer in this country, millions of Americans have lost their jobs, have been forced into part-time work.”

Fact-checkers and media outlets quickly called out the statement as a falsehood. Politifact gave Cruz’s assertion a “pants on fire” designation, writing, “By every measure, millions more people are working and millions fewer are stuck unwillingly in part-time work since the time the Affordable Care Act became law. The law might have affected part-time work for certain kinds of people, but that didn’t change the improvement in the overall numbers.”

There is one thing Cruz was right about, however: Wage stagnation is a huge problem for Americans. But according to economic experts, it isn’t health-care reform or “illegal immigration,” as Cruz suggested, that is primarily at fault.

Instead, the real culprits responsible for wage stagnation, which continues to fuel economic inequality in the United States, are policymakers who have prioritized raising the incomes of the top 1 percent of earners. Lawrence Mishel, Elise Gould, and Josh Bivens explained in a January 2015 report for the Economic Policy Institute that “wages were suppressed by policy choices made on behalf of those with the most income, wealth, and power.”

Among those policy changes listed by Mishel, Gould, and Bivens has been the failure to raise the minimum wage, which they write “had especially adverse effects on women” and people of color.

“Less than half of all workers are women, but they account for 75 percent of workers in the 10 lowest-paid occupations and about 60 percent of minimum wage workers,” explained Laura D’Andrea Tyson, the former head of the Council of Economic Advisers and the National Economic Council, in a 2014 article for the New York Times.

“And most women earning the minimum wage are not teenagers, or wives who can rely on a spouse’s income. About three-quarters of female minimum wage workers are above the age of 20, and about three-quarters of these women are on their own. Many, of course, are working and taking care of children,” Tyson continued.

In other words, many of the single mothers Cruz expresses such concern for would disproportionately benefit from increasing the minimum wage.

Yet Cruz has steadfastly opposed doing so. Speaking at a private donor event in January 2015, the Texas senator claimed that the existence of a minimum wage at all “hurts the most vulnerable.”

Cruz also voted against raising the minimum wage during his time in Congress. In 2014, he voted against the Minimum Wage Fairness Act, and in 2015 he voted against a budget amendment introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), which would have established “a deficit-neutral reserve fund relating to promoting a substantial increase in the minimum wage.”

The worry Cruz showed for single mothers and their children also seems to fall short when it comes to other policies advocates say could make a difference in the lives of that group. Take paid leave, for example, which would provide paid time off to care for a new child or sick family member. Single parents face a greater risk that “caregiving will conflict with work,” according to the Center for American Progress.

A 2015 study of low-income mothers in New York City conducted by the Community Service Society found that, lacking paid family leave, many women with a new child experienced “financial hardships and anxiety about holding on to their jobs, forcing them to return to work quickly, some when their infants were just two or three weeks old.” Many were also forced to leave the workforce altogether because of lack of accommodations and job security.

“Because most of these women quickly exhausted their accumulated sick leave or few vacation days, and because they received no other form of compensation, they soon fell behind in their ability to pay their bills—even if they returned to work only a few weeks after having given birth,” the study found. “When employed, these women had lived very close to the edge, so the absence of a regular paycheck, even for only a short time, was enough to put them over the brink.”

Yet Ted Cruz does not support federal mandates for paid family leave that could help relieve some of the financial pressures parents face that force some out of the workforce altogether. Last September, Cruz told a representative of Make It Work Iowa that while he thinks “maternity leave and paternity leave are wonderful things” that he supports “personally,” he nevertheless doesn’t “think the federal government should be in the business of mandating them.”

Although Cruz may feign concern for “single moms, struggling to feed their kids,” his policy positions show a clear lack of desire to enact changes that would actually help those families.