Law & the Courts

Why the Robert Kraft Bust Matters

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pa., December 16, 2018. (Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports)
The men who showed up, paid $100 or $200, and then went on their way are the appropriate target of law enforcement.

Robert Kraft’s name will now long be associated with one of the most despicable scourges of modern life, and rightly so.

The New England Patriots owner is charged with soliciting prostitution at a Florida massage parlor busted as part of a sex-trafficking ring. Kraft denies it, although the police in Jupiter, Florida, say they have video evidence.

The charges against him, and two other high-flying men from the financial world, represent an important front in the fight against sex trafficking. Authorities should be doing everything they can to crack down on the supply of trafficked women — via the networks that often import them to the U.S. and force them into prostitution — but also exacting a price from the men who constitute the demand.

As Donna Hughes of the University of Rhode Island has written in support of a perpetrator-focused approach to sex trafficking: “The men who purchase the sex acts remain nameless, faceless, and uncharacterized. They are not stigmatized the way that ‘prostitutes’ are. Yet, the men, the buyers of commercial sex acts, are the ultimate consumers of trafficked women and children. They use them for entertainment and sexual gratification, and often perpetrate acts of violence against them.”

To their credit, authorities undertook a monthslong investigation of the Orchids of Asia spa, where strangely the only customers were male, and dozens of similar operations. They placed cameras inside and charged hundreds of men. (The agency that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other progressives want to abolish, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, assisted on the case.)

The Orchids of Asia spa was in an unremarkable strip mall in a tony area of Florida, neighbors with other businesses including an Outback Steakhouse and a surf shop. Beneath the veneer of normality there existed a sink of degradation.

The women were lured from China with promises of legitimate work and then trapped in a life of sexual slavery. They were working to pay off debts incurred traveling to the United States. Some of them had their passports confiscated. There was no choice and no escape from a nightmarish existence that makes a mockery of the glamorous image of prostitution in much of the popular culture and belies the term “sex worker.”

Sex with up to a thousand men a year. No change of clothes. Sleep on massage tables. Food from hot plates at the back of the parlor. Moved around from one parlor to the next as pawns of the traffickers.

And this is a major business. According to the anti-trafficking group Polaris, the country’s 9,000 illicit massage parlors make $2.5 billion a year.

They are such a lucrative industry only because the Robert Krafts of the world are patrons. He is a billionaire, famous and the owner of one of the most successful franchises in sports. He presumably has access to women, indeed dates an actress and dancer nearly 40 years younger than he is. He doesn’t have to go to a strip-mall massage parlor for sex.

Except that it’s impossible to find women who are so thoroughly disposable as those compelled to perform sex acts at the likes of the Orchids of Asia spa. The commercial transaction lent a veneer of consent to a sexual exchange where only one party was exercising volition — the men who showed up, paid $100 or $200 and then went on their way.

They are the appropriate target of law enforcement. In Illinois, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has been a national leader in making it a priority to go after the buyers of sex, while offering help to prostitutes.

It will, of course, never be possible to end demand for trafficked women. But as with domestic violence, the law can be used as a tool of social disapproval to change how the culture regards prostitution, achieving clarity on who are the victims and the victimizers. Everyone who availed themselves of the Orchids of Asia spa, not just the monsters profiting from it, is the latter.

© 2019 by King Features Syndicate

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Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. 

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