If it were up to Sheriff William D. Snyder, there would be no plea deal for Robert Kraft — or any of the other men charged with soliciting prostitution at Florida day spas accused of sex trafficking.
“We have an opportunity here to put hundreds of men under the full sanction of law as a message that this is a real problem. This is a human rights issue,” said the man who launched the investigation that sprawled across several Florida counties. “And someday, an enlightened society will look back on us and judge us as having been woefully inadequate in our fight against this.”
Snyder is sheriff of Martin County, and Kraft was charged in neighboring Palm Beach, where a different state attorney is offering a plea deal that would dismiss the men’s cases and expunge their records.
The offered terms are still humiliating: The 25 men charged with soliciting prostitutes would be required to admit guilt, complete 100 hours of community service, pay court fees, and attend a course on the social harm caused by prostitution and human trafficking. (Kraft maintains his innocence and reportedly rejected that agreement Wednesday.)
Prosecutors in both counties increased the charges to first-degree misdemeanors. But the plea deal offered to Kraft and others in Palm Beach would spare him the full penalty that charge might carry — 365 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. And prosecutors have said that men typically never go to jail on a first offense anyway.
Snyder argues that those convicted should lose every day and dime.
“Until we treat it seriously as a society, we’ll continue seeing women trafficked,” he said.
Not one of the men in the Florida sting is being charged with human trafficking; it would be extremely difficult to try to prove anyone knew that women were being held against their will, Snyder realizes. But sex buyers are the ones creating the demand for commercial sex and many women are being lured, blackmailed, or defrauded into a job they never imagined. In the Florida cases, women brought from China were held at the spas 24 hours a day and living in conditions described as “deplorable,” sometimes sleeping on the same massage tables where they were expected to service multiple clients a day, police said.
“This isn’t just boys being boys. This isn’t something you do on the way home. You pick up a gallon of milk for your wife and you have a happy ending?” Snyder said. “If we took it out of that realm of the tolerable and moved it into the intolerable where there were actually ramifications to your behavior, then we might be able to interfere with the supply.”
In some areas, including Boston, policymakers have been trying to put pressure on the johns. Attorney General Maura Healey — like her predecessor, Martha Coakley — has targeted both sex buyers and traffickers, and with Mayor Martin J. Walsh formed a coalition of businesses, called Employers Against Sex Trafficking, pledging zero tolerance for any employees caught in the act. (The peak time for online searches to buy sex in Boston is in the middle of the workday — 2 p.m. — according to Demand Abolition, an organization fighting trafficking.)
And advocates are trying to explode the myths many still harbor about prostitution — the very things that men tell themselves to justify paying for illegal sex with a woman.
That it’s a victimless crime. That she chose this profession. Men who pay for sex at least once a year are more likely than non-buyers to believe those statements, and less likely to believe a woman was forced into the job, according to a survey released in November by Demand Abolition.
Prostitutes, they tell themselves, just really love sex.
Audrey Morrissey has an answer for that.
“Think of yourself with the person you love,” says Morrissey, who once worked the streets of the Combat Zone and now works with other survivors of the commercial sex industry in an organization called My Life My Choice.
Now, think about having to have sex with your beloved 15 times a day.
“If you can’t imagine yourself having sex with someone you love to have sex with 10 to 20 times a day,” Morrissey said, “how can anyone possibly think someone loves having sex with strangers, men that they don’t even know?”
“What She Said” is an occasional column on gender issues. Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Stephanie.Ebbert@globe.com.