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Sen. Katie Britt, R-Ala., speaks during a news conference on the border, Feb. 15, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP) Sen. Katie Britt, R-Ala., speaks during a news conference on the border, Feb. 15, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP)

Sen. Katie Britt, R-Ala., speaks during a news conference on the border, Feb. 15, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP)

Maria Ramirez Uribe
By Maria Ramirez Uribe March 11, 2024

Breaking down the false claims in Katie Britt’s retelling of a sex trafficking survivor’s story

If Your Time is short

  • Karla Jacinto Romero, a sex trafficking survivor and activist, participated in a discussion with Sen. Katie Britt, R-Ala., in January 2023 at the U.S.-Mexico border.

  • Jacinto was sex trafficked in Mexico from 2004 to 2008, starting when she was 12 years old. 

  • We found no evidence that this trafficking was linked to Jacinto trying to migrate to the United States; she’s said it happened after she left an abusive home and went to live with a man she fell in love with.

  • No spin, just facts you can trust. Here's how we do it.

Delivering the Republican response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, U.S. Sen. Katie Britt, R-Ala., told the harrowing story of a woman who was sex trafficked by drug cartels when she was 12. In the same breath,  Britt blamed Biden for not only creating but inviting a crisis at the U.S. southern border.  

Britt listed actions Biden took in his first 100 days in office and said she took a different approach, traveling to the U.S.-Mexico border when she took office in 2023. 

"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," Britt said. "She told me not just that she was raped every day. But how many times a day she was raped. 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 OK with this happening in a Third World country. This is the United States of America," Britt continued. "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. And the truth is it is almost entirely preventable."

But the woman Britt spoke about was trafficked in the 2000s in central Mexico, not in the U.S. or during Biden’s presidency. The survivor has said it was not a drug cartel that trafficked her, and PolitiFact found no evidence that she was attempting to migrate to the U.S. when it happened.

Jonathan Katz, a freelance journalist and former The Associated Press reporter, posted a video March 8 on TikTok fact-checking Britt’s retelling of the events — notably that this did not happen during Biden’s presidency, or in the United States.

@katzonearth This isn’t going to make her like TikTok more. #katiebritt #sotu #stateoftheunion #lies #politicians #biden2024 #trump2024 #immigration #traffickingawarenes #mexico #bordersecurity #fyp ♬ original sound - Jonathan M. Katz

On "Fox News Sunday," Britt told host Shannon Bream that she was contrasting Biden’s first 100 days with hers, during which she visited the southern border. 

"I very clearly said I spoke to a woman who told me about when she was trafficked when she was 12. … She was a victims’ rights advocate who was telling this is what drug cartels are doing, this is how they're profiting off of women and it is disgusting," Britt said.

@politifact In the Republican response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, Alabama Sen. Katie Britt shared a story about a sex trafficking survivor she’d met at the U.S.-Mexico border. But Britt omitted key facts and gave a misleading impression about Karla Jacinto Romero's story. #katiebritt #immigration #biden #factcheck #fyp #learnontiktok ♬ Minimal for news / news suspense(1169746) - Hiraoka Kotaro

A Britt spokesperson did not respond to PolitiFact’s request for comment, but confirmed to The Washington Post that Britt was talking about Karla Jacinto Romero, a Mexican woman in her 30s and an activist against sex trafficking. She has told her story about surviving sex trafficking in Mexico at several forums, including before the U.S. Congress in 2015. 

Britt met Jacinto in Del Rio, Texas, during a discussion about human trafficking.

Here’s a look into Britt’s misleading framing of Jacinto’s story, and the facts she got wrong.

The facts behind Jacinto’s sex trafficking story

Jacinto’s trafficking happened in the 2000s: Jacinto was sex trafficked at 12 years old, as Britt said. But this didn’t happen during Biden’s administration. Jacinto was trafficked decades before, from 2004 to 2008, during President George W. Bush’s administration, according to Jacinto’s bio in U.S. House records. 

Britt used Jacinto’s story to illustrate the dangers of migration through the U.S.-Mexico border under Biden.

"We wouldn't be OK with this happening in a Third World country. This is the United States of America," Britt said. (The term "Third World country" is an outdated label often used to describe developing, low-income countries.)

Jacinto’s trafficking happened in Mexico: Jacinto’s trafficking occurred in central Mexico, not in the United States.

While retelling her story on a Mexican government agency’s YouTube page, Jacinto said she grew up in an abusive home and at 12 fell in love with a man. She eventually left her home and went to live with him in central Mexico near a city called Puebla. 

"For years and years I was coerced, intimidated, threatened, beaten, robbed of my children and emotionally and sexually violated time and time again," Jacinto testified to Congress in 2015. "During those years, I was forced to serve every type of fetish imaginable to more than 40,000 clients. Of those, many were foreigners visiting my city looking to have sexual interactions with minors like me."

Jacinto said a pimp trafficked her: Britt also claimed it was cartels that trafficked Jacinto. However, PolitiFact listened to multiple videos from different sources of Jacinto telling her story and did not find any where she said it was cartels who trafficked her. 

Jacinto wasn’t trafficked by Mexican drug cartels, "but by a pimp that operated as part of a family that entrapped vulnerable girls in order to force them into prostitution," CNN Reporter Rafael Romo, who spoke to Jacinto, said March 11.

Jacinto told CNN that Britt did not ask for permission to use her story.

"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," Jacinto said, according to CNN’s translation of her interview. "I think Sen. Britt should first take into account what really happens before telling a story of that magnitude."

No evidence that Jacinto’s trafficking was related to immigration: Britt’s recounting of Jacinto’s story also gave the impression that Jacinto’s trafficking happened as she tried to migrate to the United States. But Jacinto did not say that in her testimony to Congress or news and podcast interviews.

Our ruling

While speaking about Biden’s immigration policies, Britt said a woman had been "sex trafficked by the cartels starting at the age of 12 … We wouldn't be OK with this happening in a Third World country. This is the United States of America."

Britt was talking about Jacinto, who was sex trafficked when she was 12 years old. But Britt omitted significant facts and context about when and where this happened. It was in the early 2000s in Mexico, not during the Biden administration or in the United States. 

Jacinto has said a pimp trafficked her after she left an abusive home and went to live with a man she fell in love with. Jacinto has not said this was related to immigration to the United States.

We rate Britt’s claim False.

RELATED: Fact-checking Katie Britt's immigration claims in Republican 2024 State of the Union response

RELATED: Fact-checking Joe Biden’s 2024 State of the Union address

CORRECTION, March 12, 2024: This fact-check was updated to clarify a quote from Sen. Katie Britt. 

Our Sources

PolitiFact, Fact-checking Katie Britt's immigration claims in Republican 2024 State of the Union response, March 8, 2024

TikTok, Jonathan M. Katz, March 9, 2024

Fox News, We are not putting Americans front and center: Katie Britt, March 10, 2024

The Washington Post, Katie Britt’s false linkage of a sex-trafficking case to Joe Biden, March 9, 2024

U.S. House of Representatives, Karla Jacinto Romero, May 14, 2015

NPR, If you shouldn't call it the Third World, what should you call it?, Jan. 4, 2015

DIF Naucalpan, Trata de personas, testimonial de Karla Jacinto, June 18, 2021

U.S. House of Representatives, A pathway to freedom: rescue and refuge for sex trafficking vicitms, May 14, 2015

CNN, Woman who appears to be at center of Katie Britt's SOTU anecdote has message for the Alabama senator, March 11, 2024

Imagen Noticias, Pasé de abuso familiar a la trata de personas: Karla Jacinto, May 7, 2017

C-SPAN, Sex Trafficking Victims, May 14, 2015

CNN, Sex trafficking victim becomes activist, Nov. 11, 2015

Univision, Como una joven logró escapar del mundo de la esclavitud sexual, Oct. 21, 2017

Oro Noticias Puebla, Sufrir trata de personas por 4 años: el testimonio de Karla Jacinto, July 31, 2023

La Mesa Redonda, La sobrecogedora historia de Karla Jacinto: Fue violada más de 43 mil veces en México; hoy lucha en contra de la esclavitud sexual, Aug. 6, 2022

U.S. Senate, U.S. Sen. Katie Britt: ‘There is an unprecedented national security and humanitarian crisis at the southern border’, Jan. 10, 2023

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Breaking down the false claims in Katie Britt’s retelling of a sex trafficking survivor’s story

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