Human trafficking goes beyond Kraft

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

On Friday, news broke that Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, was charged with two counts of soliciting prostitution in Jupiter, Florida.

When I first saw the news, I was disturbed and upset, but I can’t say I was particularly surprised. A 77-year-old billionaire paying for sex? I sent a link of the news to friends, and the first responses ranged from “What the—?” to a laughing emoji. The whole case feels laughable, but it’s not. On the contrary — it’s the least laughable thing possible.

Kraft was charged as part of a wide-ranging investigation into prostitution and sex trafficking in South Florida. He was the biggest name among dozens of men charged. While there’s nothing positive in this whole situation, I think that having a well-known name like Kraft — who is coming off another Patriots Super Bowl — intertwined in this case is important. If he hadn’t been linked, this news would have been reported by local Florida and picked up by some national outlets, but Sports Illustrated and ESPN wouldn’t be talking about this. To be completely honest, I might not have heard about it, being confined to my college bubble. This news brings to light a huge problem that’s finally being talked about: human trafficking, and more specifically, sex trafficking.

Around the world, there are 40.3 million people enslaved in the human trafficking network, which is worth $150 billion and ranges from forced labor, to forced organ donation, to forced sex. In the United States, human trafficking seems like something that happens in a country thousands of miles from here. It’s modern-day slavery that, of course, doesn’t exist in our country. That’s the furthest from the truth. Human trafficking is rampant in the United States, and our complacency is making it worse.

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, there were 5,147 reported cases of human trafficking in 2018, 3,718, or 72.2 percent of them being sex trafficking. Out of the cases, 4,233 were female, or 82.2 percent. All cases are different. Some young women are contacted online for modeling opportunities. Or they’re young girls sold for sex by their fathers, ranging from the ages of 4 to 18. They are all victims. Some may escape but never fully recover, and others are never found.

In Florida, police found a video of Kraft paying for sexual acts in a spa and massage parlor. In 2018, the most common venues for sex trafficking took place in illicit spa and massage businesses. But this isn’t just a problem in Florida, the state with the third most cases, or California, which had 760 cases, by far the most last year. This is happening everywhere. Last August, the Pittsburgh police arrested 40 people involved with prostitution in a sex trafficking crackdown. In the area, sex trafficking has been increasing, partly attributed to the opioid crisis. Addiction has driven people to turn to prostitution or pimping, while Pittsburgh’s location between the East Coast and the Midwest markets makes it an ideal location.

Both the Pittsburgh and Florida investigations took weeks, careful planning, and many resources. For now, Kraft is the biggest name in the current case, and we will have more important information in the coming days and weeks. He is facing two misdemeanors, and if found guilty, may not face jail time. If guilty, he will face the consequences in one way or another, from the law, the NFL, and the public.

But I don’t want this to be the “Robert Kraft scandal,” though I wouldn’t be surprised if it got its own Wikipedia page someday. This story shouldn’t be about him; it isn’t about him. It's about the victims who are ripped from their lives and turned into slaves. It’s about a seedy underbelly in our country that we need to talk about. We hear about drugs and opioids and violence. And yes, those are all criminal activities that deserve our attention, but so is human trafficking. We need to talk about it more, but why aren’t we?