When storied Patriots football franchise owner Robert Kraft was charged with soliciting a prostitute at a strip mall in Florida, it would have been easy to shrug it off as just another scandal. But it is more than that. The balance of power has changed so that even powerful and wealthy men cannot expect impunity when they solicit sex. Kraft is the canary in the coal mine.
The phrase a “canary in a coal mine” is drawn from the time when coal miners would take canaries in cages in coal mines as an advanced warning of carbon monoxide. If the canary died, they needed to exit before levels became dangerous for humans. Conditions in sex sales involving possibly trafficked girls or women have decidedly changed for the worse for men like Kraft.
So what has changed? Prosecutors, lawmakers, and the public have joined the camp for the sex abuse and trafficking victims. In short, the balance of power.
Kraft Has Not Received the Acosta Treatment, and That Is Good
There was a time when so-called “johns” would be caught up in a prostitution sting and routinely be permitted to protect their reputations either by not being charged publicly or by pleading quietly to a lesser offense. Those times are past.
There could be no greater contrast between the approaches taken by former Miami US Attorney Alex Acosta and Florida state attorney David Aronberg. Acosta led a team of prosecutors that entered into lengthy and secret negotiations to treat Palm Beach sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein with kid gloves, as I discussed here and here. Epstein paid for sex with reportedly hundreds of girls, whom he also shared with other men in a homegrown sex trafficking operation. He received a sweetheart deal from Acosta including secrecy until the victims recently won claims under the federal Crime Victims Rights Act. Epstein, the mastermind of the trafficking scheme, was the prized protected billionaire in those negotiations; the victims were throwaways.
Contrast the prosecutor in Kraft’s case. Kraft was charged with two first-degree misdemeanors of solicitation of a prostitute. State Attorney Dave Aronberg not only did not let Kraft slip away in darkness, but he also proudly announced the charges at a press conference where he explained that there were videos of Kraft handing $100 bills to females for sex; they appear to have been part of a sex trafficking operation where they were brought from other countries and put to work as sex slaves in a strip mall. Each charge carries with it a potential of up to one year in prison and “mandatory 100 hours of community service, a mandatory $5,000 fine, and a mandatory class on the dangers of prostitution and human trafficking.”
Aronberg then explained the reality that is informing law enforcement: sex trafficking cannot be halted unless the entire business model is dismantled and that means not just charging the person who runs the business but also going after the customers like Kraft. When there is no market for trafficked girls and women, they will be infinitely safer. Kraft may have built the Patriots, but he also appears to be part of the system that constructed this trap for trafficked victims, and which treats them like property. (The same principle holds true of child pornography; so long as there is a marketplace for the horrendous live action sex assaults on children that flow out of places like the Philippines, the suffering of the victims will persist.) That means powerful men who have built the sex trade marketplace in the past and treated the “prostitutes” as discardable play toys must now be held accountable. Today, the trafficked victims are humans with rights, not property to be used and disposed of. None of this thinking was part of Acosta’s secret deal with Epstein.
Part of what is happening here is the cultural re-interpretation and explanation of “prostitution.” Children can’t be voluntary prostitutes—they are victims. And trafficked humans are victims. This re-framing of the reality has moved us dramatically forward in terms of human rights.
Powerful Men Must Not Have Impunity for Child Sex Abuse Either
While it is good to see justice for sex victims headed in the right direction with the Kraft charges, and the unraveling of the non-prosecution agreement for Epstein, Congress still has some catching up to do in the child sex abuse arena. Governments, including the United States, have been focusing on labor and sex trafficking as they should, but Congress continues to stay mute on the largest sex abuse scandal in the United States—the sexual abuse of children in religious settings. Our elected representatives have sat in fear of publicly criticizing the Catholic bishops despite their cruel and self-serving treatment of children. It’s time that the victims of sex assault be treated uniformly as humans with rights and for our elected officials to stand up for all victims of child sex abuse and trafficking. The difference between child sex abuse and trafficking is that the men paid for the sex in the latter situation. The suffering of the victims is equally real.
There are those who are calling for the legalization of paid sex between consenting adults. That is a wholly different situation than either child sex abuse or sex with a trapped, trafficking victim. Let’s not rush to legalization before we can be certain that the real victims are protected.