Focus on the Traffickers, not Robert Kraft

The recent charges against Patriots owner Robert Kraft for allegedly soliciting prostitution at a Florida massage parlor have brought human trafficking back into the public eye. Unfortunately, all the attention seems to be on Kraft and the several dozen other men facing similar charges. That’s unfortunate, since the main criminals here are the traffickers themselves.

What Happened

Police claim that they began their investigation when a health inspector saw evidence that the women providing the massages were actually living at the business. Police then installed hidden cameras in the massage rooms to gather evidence. With regard to Robert Kraft, they claim video evidence shows that on January 19th Kraft paid $100 to each of two of the massage providers, who ‘massaged his genitals.’ Then he returned the next day. When he arrived he hugged one of the massage providers, who took him to a massage room and removed his clothing. He lay face up as she manipulated his genitals and put her head in his genital area. Then she wiped him with a towel, helped him get dressed, and he gave her $100 plus another unidentified bill. This visit lasted a total of 14 minutes.

Let’s assume, as police have alleged, that these women (all are Chinese) were living in squalid conditions, and had been coerced or manipulated into this against their will. It’s certainly repugnant and criminal to use another human being in such a way, locked up in a massage business in a strip mall as a tool to make money. (Note that the police have not proven by what means these Chinese women were brought to this work, I’m merely assuming these police allegations are true.) The traffickers who were running this massage business should certainly be arrested and punished.

What About Kraft?

But what about Kraft? The charges against him for soliciting prostitution could lead to a maximum punishment of 1 year in jail, 100 hours of community service, and an awareness course on human trafficking.

Only Kraft himself knows how aware he was of these women’s condition. It’s completely possible that he had no idea they were being forced to live at the business or any of the circumstances that brought them there. The video appears to show Kraft treating the women nicely and paying them well. Perhaps Kraft assumed they were making decent money and living alright. There might be a level of naiveite to his thinking, but it’s certainly plausible Kraft never imagined himself to be taking advantage of trafficked or exploited women.

Obviously, sex trafficking is only profitable if there’s demand. It is therefore argued that criminalizing solicitation is the ticket to wiping out sex trafficking. After all, without customers there would be no profit in trafficking and the trade would die out. So it’s reasonable that punishment for soliciting sex work could be one method of curbing trafficking. But making the punishment of men who solicit sex work the main legal tool for eliminating human trafficking is absurd.

Why The Focus on Trafficking for Sex Work?

Consider the Kraft incident itself. The trafficking here only came to light because of the sex work. But what if there hadn’t been sex work going on? Let’s say Kraft had just asked for a massage of his shoulders, neck, back, and legs, but not his genitals. If that massage was given by a trafficked Chinese woman held against her will in the massage parlor, her situation is still horrendous. More broadly, foreigners are trafficked into the United States not only for sex work, but also for domestic help, to do hard labor, and other jobs. All trafficking has to be stopped, whether it’s for sex work or not.

Does the fact that these women were being forced to do sex work, rather than just provide regular massages, make their experience more degrading or dehumanizing? Possibly. We’d have to hear from them directly to know their feelings about this personal and sensitive issue. But whatever extent they may have been additionally traumatized by being forced to perform sex work as opposed to other services isn’t the main harm inflicted on them by their traffickers. The main harm is the trafficking itself.

And consider where attempts to combat trafficking by criminalizing the solicitation of trafficked goods would lead us. Much cat food sold in the United States contains fish caught by slave labor on Thai fishing boats. Should we outlaw pet cats? If there weren’t pet cats, there wouldn’t be demand for junk fish to put into cat food, and then there wouldn’t be profit in running these boats.

Some of the garments sold at American big box retailers are produced by slave and child labor in the far-East. So should we ban Walmart and the like? If not for these giant corporate customers there would be no way to market the vast quantity of cheap goods these slaves manufacture.

In other words, it’s certainly wrong to take advantage of slave labor and consumers should do what they can to make sure they are not purchasing slave produced goods. But trafficking and slavery is so prevalent, commonly hidden, and so easily shifted from one industry to another, that attempting to criminalize purchasing the fruits of trafficked labor is neither fully practical nor overly affective. Apprehending and punishing the traffickers is the right way to go.

Religious Judgment Makes Its Way Into Law

Why, then, are there such heavy penalties and such a crushing stigma attached to soliciting sex work? Unfortunately, combating human trafficking isn’t be the main reason. If it were, we’d see similarly aggressive efforts in other areas where trafficking is prevalent as well. Instead, I believe we have a moral judgment against sex work grounded in religious values that’s snuck itself into law. In our legal system, laws against sex work cannot be explicitly based on religion, as that would be seen as violating the separation of Church and state. So instead combating the evil of trafficking is invoked as justification for these laws, covering up the religious impetus behind them.

Certainly Robert Kraft’s recent alleged conduct is nothing to be proud of. But let’s keep our judgments of him and moralizing about him in proportion. The real villains are whoever may have lured these Chinese women to Florida and forced them to work against their will in order to exploit them for profit. If that’s truly what happened, those are the ones we need police and prosecutors to throw the book at. For Kraft, the class on human trafficking awareness and maybe some community service could well suffice.

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