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Yvonne Abraham

It’s time for Kraft to own this

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft at NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s annual Super Bowl press conference on Feb. 1, 2017. Jim Davis/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Say this for Robert Kraft: His being charged with soliciting prostitution has done more to raise awareness of sex trafficking in a couple of weeks than he could have achieved with a lifetime of philanthropy.

Thanks to his involvement, Americans actually seem interested in what was happening to women at the Orchids of Asia massage parlor, where the Patriots owner allegedly paid for sex.

If not for his involvement, the exposure of a human trafficking operation in Florida would have been a one-day story, and a local one at that. Most people just don’t care about these women, otherwise. That’s how modern-day slavery persists.


Kraft’s apparent refusal Wednesday to accept a plea deal offered by prosecutors only ensures that the spotlight will continue to shine. He is reportedly balking at a requirement that he unequivocally admit guilt.

Why on earth would he choose to prolong this a second longer? Unless he’s wrongly accused — and that would be incredible, given that police say they have video of him receiving and paying for sex — admitting that he did what he is accused of is the only way back for Kraft, especially in the public arena outside the courtroom.

The longer this drags out, the longer the organizations and initiatives Kraft and the Patriots Charitable Foundation support (and the foundation itself, led by his son Josh) will be in an extremely unwelcome, borderline impossible, position.

Until last month, Kraft was embraced as a champion for women’s safety, lending his high profile, and his millions, to those fighting abuse and exploitation. Apart from his dogged personal and financial devotion to a president who has belittled women and boasted of assaulting them, Kraft seemed a reliable ally (Perhaps his support for Donald Trump was more of a tell than it seemed).


Now Kraft’s association with those causes is toxic.

Since 2015, Kraft has partnered with Attorney General Maura Healey and others on an initiative called Game Change, which educates adolescents about dating violence and sexual assault. At the time, Kraft was a standout in an NFL that did precious little to protect women. Healey hoped Kraft would be a model for other owners, so she encouraged him to be a public face of Game Change.

The Patriots Foundation also donated to My Life My Choice, which works to prevent sex trafficking and protect its victims. Though she declined to speak publicly about Kraft yesterday, executive director Lisa Goldblatt-Grace and others have said they are devastated by the allegations against Kraft.

There is distress, too, at Jane Doe Inc., the advocacy group for victims of sexual and domestic assault. Executive director Debra Robbin was shocked at the allegations against Kraft, given what she saw as his sincere commitment to their causes.

“I feel disappointed that we have to spend our energy talking about this individual incident, given that there is so much sexual and domestic violence happening in the world,” Robbin said. “At the same time, we welcome the public reckoning with the reality of what happens when people use their power to harm others.”

But what does that look like?

The attorney general’s office was clear on Wednesday that, for Kraft or his foundation to remain involved in Game Change, the Pats owner would have to demonstrate more contrition than he has so far.


“It’s clear that our office cannot continue this partnership without an acceptance of responsibility and serious remediation, or [Kraft’s] resignation from the foundation,” said Healey’s spokeswoman Jillian Fennimore.

That’s the only tenable position for the attorney general here and for others who work with victims. Kraft could acknowledge the damage he has done, publicly and unsparingly, and then redouble his support for Game Change, My Life My Choice, and others.

Would it be humiliating? Sure. There’s no way Kraft can avoid that now, no matter what becomes of the charges against him.

But he has a real chance here: The disaster he has brought upon himself might yet yield some good.

Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.