Sen. Katie Britt Misleads With Anecdote About a Sex-Trafficking Victim

Sen. Katie Britt speaks at the U.S. Capitol on December 7, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

In her response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, Republican Sen. Katie Britt of Alabama criticized Biden’s handling of the southern border in part by sharing a personal anecdote about a woman she had met on a visit to a Texas border town. “When I first took office, I took a different approach. I traveled to the Del Rio sector of Texas. That’s where I spoke to a woman who shared her story with me. She had been sex trafficked by the cartels starting at the age of 12. She told me not just that she was raped every day, but how many times a day she was raped,” Britt said. “The cartels put her on a mattress in a shoebox of a room, and they sent men through that door, over and over again, for hours and hours on end. We wouldn’t be okay with this happening in a Third World country. This is the United States of America, and it is past time, in my opinion, that we start acting like it.”

Britt’s anecdote did not contain any outright falsehoods, but her telling of it omitted important context. Freelance journalist Jonathan M. Katz published a TikTok video explaining that through a number of press releases and news reports he was able to determine that the events described took place in Mexico, not the United States, while George W. Bush was president. The victim, Karla Jacinto Romero, is now an anti-human trafficking activist who has spoken widely about her story.

“[Britt’s anecdote] just seemed off in a bunch of ways,” Katz told The Dispatch Fact Check in an email. “There were extremely lurid details but no specifics—no information about where or when it happened, how she met this woman, or what happened to this presumed migrant after this alleged conversation. Did she get asylum? Was she deported anyway? I’ve also done enough reporting from marginalized places and with people in trauma to sniff out someone trying to take advantage of the story of someone in distress. So I thought it deserved a closer look.”

The trip to the border Britt referenced took place in January 2023, and a press release from GOP Sen. Marsha Blackburn, who was also on the trip, confirmed that the group had attended a roundtable about human trafficking that featured Romero.

Romero—now 31—was trafficked in Mexico from the ages of 12 to 16  before escaping with the help of a regular client. “For years and years I was coerced, intimidated, threatened, beaten, robbed of my children, and emotionally and sexually violated time and time again,” she wrote of the experience. In May 2015, Romero testified to Congress about her experience.

Britt defended her use of the anecdote over the weekend, denying that she intended to imply that Romero’s story had taken place while Biden was president. “I very clearly said I spoke to a woman who told me about when she was trafficked when she was 12,” she told Shannon Bream on Fox News Sunday. “So I didn’t say a teenager. I didn’t say a young woman. A grown woman, a woman when she was trafficked when she was 12.”

The Dispatch Fact Check has reached out to Britt’s office for comment.

Romero herself criticized Britt’s use of her story for political purposes. “I hardly ever cooperate with politicians, because it seems to me that they only want an image. They only want a photo—and that to me is not fair,” Romero told CNN on Sunday. “I think [Britt] should first take into account what really happens before telling a story of that magnitude.”

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