A leading candidate for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Missouri recently blamed the problem of human trafficking on the sexual revolution of the 1960s and ’70s during remarks he gave at a religious conference.

Josh Hawley, the state’s attorney general and the Trump-endorsed candidate as the party tries to unseat Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, made the remarks in December at the event “Rediscovering God in America,” hosted by a Christian political group, the Missouri Renewal Project.

“We’re living now with the terrible aftereffects of this so-called revolution,” said Hawley, according to audio of the event. “We have a human-trafficking crisis in our state and in this city and in our country because people are willing to purchase women, young women, and treat them like commodities. There is a market for it. Why is there? Because our culture has completely lost its way. The sexual revolution has led to exploitation of women on a scale that we would never have imagined.”

The remarks were published Wednesday by the Kansas City Star. Hawley’s campaign later uploaded audio of the event on YouTube and said it had been broadcast previously on a Christian radio network.

Hawley, a staunch abortion opponent, spoke about “the lordship of Christ” and said that the appropriate place for sex was “within marriage.”

The news comes on the heels of statements made by one of his opponents for the Republican nomination, Courtland Sykes, who criticized feminists and career-focused women as “nail-biting manophobic hellbent feminist she-devils” and said he expected his fiancee to make dinner for him every night.

The sexual liberation of the 1960s was part of a cultural upheaval that included the growth of the feminist and gay rights movements. It was not clear how exactly Hawley connected the sexual openness of the decade to human trafficking.

He also said that “the false gospel of ‘anything goes’ ends in this road of slavery.”

Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco, a human-trafficking expert, told the Star that there is “absolutely no empirical evidence or research to suggest there was any uptick in human trafficking in the 1960s or ’70s, or that that’s when it started.”

She said that sex trafficking has been an issue in the United States as long as the country has been around and added that it drew attention after the Civil War.

“There are quite a few politicians, both Republican and Democrat, who try to use the issue to help themselves get elected without doing much research,” Mehlman-Orozco said. “It’s a bipartisan issue that most people can come behind.”

Hawley’s campaign released a statement that doubled down on his assertion.

“Let’s get serious: sex trafficking is driven by male demand and the subjugation of women,” spokeswoman Kelli Ford said. “In the 1960s and ’70s, it became okay for Hollywood and the media to treat women as objects for male gratification. And that demeaning view of women has helped fuel harassment, inequality, and yes, sex trafficking.”

Another man seeking the state’s Republican nomination, Austin Peterson, compared Hawley’s statements to those made by another candidate who had tried unsuccessfully to unseat McCaskill during a previous election cycle. Former U.S. Rep. Todd Akin (R) was criticized harshly for remarks he made during his losing 2012 campaign suggesting that women’s bodies naturally terminate pregnancies in the case of “legitimate rape.”

“It would also be great if GOP Senate candidates could stop writing Claire’s attack ads and fundraising emails for her,” Peterson said, according to the Star. “These comments do nothing but foster a Todd Akin-style culture war that the GOP will lose to a formidable female incumbent.”

Correction Feb. 2: An earlier version of this story misspelled the last name of a candidate for a U.S. senate seat from Missouri. He is Austin Petersen, not Peterson. 

Read more: