Opinion

Opinion | Eric MacLeish

Why the allegations against Robert Kraft are a big deal

JUPITER, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 22: A Danger sign is seen on the front door of the Orchids of Asia Day Spa after New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is charged with allegedly soliciting for sex on February 22, 2019 in Jupiter, Florida. Mr. Kraft was caught up in a law enforcement operation in South Florida that netted hundreds of johns over the past two weeks.(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
A Danger sign is seen on the front door of the Orchids of Asia Day Spa on Friday.

In the wake of the disclosures involving Patriots owner Robert Kraft allegedly soliciting two prostitutes at the Orchids of Asia Spa in Juniper, Fla., some commentators have suggested that the charges may get dismissed at the arraignment and that they only involve two alleged misdemeanors for which Kraft cannot be extradited from Massachusetts to Florida. So, no big deal and, according to some, Kraft’s place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame looks pretty secure.

Kraft has issued a carefully worded statement denying that he did anything against the law. He’s entitled to a trial. The police say that they have video evidence of him engaging in a sex act with two prostitutes that he allegedly paid. Unless it’s another person on that video, a trial seems unlikely. So should all of this go away for Kraft in a neat plea deal?

It should not. Investigators in Florida report that the women working at the spa are victims of a human trafficking operation where they were coerced into performing as many as 15 sex acts a day. Apparently, many live and sleep at the spa and are undoubtedly working without pay, based on some fictitious debt that they incurred for being smuggled into the United States. Some were discovered squatting at the back of the spa, cooking on a hot plate. We don’t know all of the details yet, but let’s be clear: If the allegations are true, Robert Kraft has in effect aided and abetted an organization involving human slavery.

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It could be argued that some of the johns caught in such a sting operation really don’t know much about the living situations of the women they solicit. Maybe so, but if the allegations are true, should it make a difference? Did they think that the women working at the spa were single working mothers trying to earn some extra cash to help their kids?

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In cases involving statutory rape (when a child is below the age of consent), it is typically not a defense when a victim misidentifies his or her age. It’s the responsibility of the defendant to find out how old he or she is. There are no charges of underage victims here, but a similar rule should apply. A 2018 Polaris report estimates that there were 9,000 storefront operations similar to Orchids of Asia employing exploited women in the sale of sex, with revenues totaling $2.5 billion. Most of the women are from China or South Korea and most do not have a high school education. It was up to Kraft to understand the type of operation he was entering on those two visits.

There are more than 400,000 human beings held as slaves in the United States. I am sure that the Patriots and Kraft contribute to organizations that fight such slavery. The prostitution part of this business exists solely because of the johns who financially support an international organization that enslaves vulnerable human beings. Unfortunately, the law does not allow johns to be charged with aiding and abetting human trafficking. It’s time that it did. But perhaps this sad case can at least be a focus point for putting some badly needed reforms into our state and federal human trafficking laws by making it a felony to negligently purchase sexual services from a worker held as a slave.

Eric MacLeish is an attorney at Clark Hunt Ahern and Embry who has been representing victims of sexual abuse for 25 years.