Michelle Rodenburg, Staff Member

On Monday, February 25, 2019, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was charged with two counts of soliciting prostitution for paying for sex in a spa in Jupiter, Florida.[1] Kraft’s arrest was part of a human trafficking sting which has resulted in the charging of 173 men.[2]

Kraft is worth a reported $6.6 billion and has well-known friendships with President Donald Trump and Rupert Murdoch.[3] His arrest has been widely publicized, and has prompted the creation of websites such as “12 Funniest Tweets about Patriots Owner Robert Kraft’s Arrest for Soliciting Prostitution” and “Robert Kraft Prostitution Arrest Twitter Memes & Reactions.”[4] A New York restaurant named a sandwich after Kraft this week, deeming it the “‘Robert Kraft’ aka the Jerked and Pulled Chicken Sandwich.”[5]

The real story surrounding Kraft’s arrest is far removed from the jokes and jabs of Twitter and paints a picture of a rising global crisis: human trafficking. The sting that led to the arrest of Kraft began in July 2018 and was prompted by reported concerns of the conditions of the Chinese workers of the Orchids of Asia Day Spa.[6] The Martin Country Sheriff’s office shared details of these concerns – including the inability of the women to leave, minimal hygiene, no days off, high client turnover, and location movement.[7] These details are classic signs of human trafficking.[8]

As defined by the United Nations in the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons (to which the United States is a signatory and China has acceded), human trafficking is “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”[9]

Human trafficking is the world’s fastest growing crime and is a business that generates a profit of approximately $32 billion and involves 21 million victims.[10] Florida has the third-highest rate of reported human trafficking in the United States.[11]

Human trafficking continues to be misunderstood and misrepresented in the global media. A popular misconception exists that human trafficking only takes place overseas, in developing nations.[12] Additionally, human trafficking is often conflated with prostitution, as seen in reports of Kraft’s case.[13] In reality, the situation surrounding Kraft’s arrest is a common one, research suggests at least 7,000 similar spa service storefronts in the United States whose primary business is sex trafficking.[14] Recognizing the need to publicize human trafficking, a General Assembly Resolution has established July 30 to be “World Day against Trafficking.”[15]

Despite international efforts to raise awareness of the prevalence of human trafficking, the coverage of Kraft’s arrest has been trivialized and joked about, while largely failing to take the opportunity to expose the serious realities of human trafficking in the United States.

[1]  Minyvonne Burke & Tom Winter, Robert Kraft allegedly solicited prostitution at Florida spa on morning of AFC title game, NBC News (Feb. 25, 2019), https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/robert-kraft-allegedly-solicited-prostitution-florida-spa-morning-afc-title-n975751.

[2] Robert Kraft: No ‘special justice’ for accused NFL owner, BBC (Feb. 25, 2019), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-47365275.

[3] Nik DeCosta-Klipa, Robert Kraft praises Donald Trump and Rupert Murdoch in Fox News interview, Boston Globe Media Partners (Feb. 1, 2019), https://www.boston.com/sports/new-england-patriots/2019/02/01/robert-kraft-donald-trump-rupert-murdoch-fox-news-video (explaining that Kraft has described President Trump as a “very close” friend); see also Tom Winter & Ben Kesslen, Patriots owner Robert Kraft charged with soliciting prostitution, NBC News (Feb. 22, 2019), https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/patriots-owner-robert-kraft-charged-soliciting-prostitution-n974611 (purporting that Kraft is worth $6.6 billion and is 79th on the Forbes list).

[4] See Ellyn Santiago, Robert Kraft Prostitution Arrest Twitter Memes & Reactions, HEAVY (Feb. 22, 2019), https://heavy.com/social/2019/02/robert-kraft-prostitution-arrest-twitter-memes-reactions/; Adam Weinrib, 12 Funniest Tweets About Patriots Owner Robert Kraft’s Arrest for Soliciting Prostitution, 12Up (Feb. 22, 2019), https://www.12up.com/posts/6303404-12-funniest-tweets-about-patriots-owner-robert-kraft-s-arrest-for-soliciting-prostitution.

[5] Dan Cancian, New York Restaurant Makes Fun of Robert Kraft with Sandwich Name, Gets Slammed on Social Media, Newsweek (Feb. 26, 2019), https://www.newsweek.com/robert-kraft-arrest-dinosaur-bar-b-que-sandwich-orchids-asia-day-spa-new-1344319.

[6] Eliott C. McLaughlin, Trafficking probe that ensnared Robert Kraft began when inspector saw signs women lived at spa, CNN (Feb. 26, 2019), https://www.cnn.com/2019/02/25/us/jupiter-florida-day-spa-living-conditions/index.html.

[7] Id.

[8] Recognize the Signs, Polaris (2019), https://polarisproject.org/human-trafficking/recognize-signs.

[9] Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, G.A. Res. 25, annex II, U.N. GAOR, 55th Sess., Supp. No. 49, at 60, U.N. Doc. A/45/49 (Vol. I) (2001), entered into force Dec. 25, 2003.

[10] Ewelina U. Ochab, The World’s Fastest Growing Crime, Forbes (July 29, 2017), https://www.forbes.com/sites/ewelinaochab/2017/07/29/the-worlds-fastest-growing-crime/#9510b9d3aae1.

[11] Hotline Statistics, Nat’l Human Trafficking Hotline (2018), https://humantraffickinghotline.org/states.

[12] Dale Archer, Human Trafficking In America, Psychology Today (Apr. 11, 2013), https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/reading-between-the-headlines/201304/human-trafficking-in-america.

[13] Rachel Austin & Amy Farrell, Human Trafficking and the Media in the United States, Oxford Res. Encyclopedia of Criminology (2017).

[14] The Typology of Modern Slavery: Defining Sex and Labor Trafficking in the United States, Polaris (Mar. 2017), https://polarisproject.org/sites/default/files/Polaris-Typology-of-Modern-Slavery.pdf.

[15] G.A. Res. 68/192,  (Feb. 14, 2014); 2018 World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (2018), https://www.unodc.org/documents/endht/Leaflet/WorldTiPday2018-leaflet.pdf.