The Robert Kraft solicitation saga appears to be over.
On Monday, Florida prosecutors announced they would not appeal the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal’s decision to block video that allegedly shows the New England Patriots owner paying for sex at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, Florida.
On Thursday, prosecutors dropped the misdemeanor charges against him and other defendants in the case.
“Although there was probable cause to make an arrest, the evidence cannot prove all legally required elements of the crime alleged and is insufficient to support a criminal prosecution,” said State Attorney David Aronberg, CNN reported.
At the time of Kraft’s arrest in February 2019, Florida law enforcement executives spoke gravely to the press about the scourge of human trafficking. They touted the number of “johns” arrested in the months-long, multi-county, multi-agency operations targeting massage parlors and day spas across Florida.
A visibly angered Martin County Sheriff William Snyder referred to the buyers of sex, saying, “The monsters are the men.”
Robert Kraft is hardly a sympathetic figure. The billionaire was driven to the Orchids of Asia Day Spa on two consecutive days in a luxury Bentley. Still, he is not a monster and should not be conflated with a trafficker.
There is no indication that Kraft, or any other parlor and spa customer, knowingly participated in labor or sex trafficking. Sensationalizing Kraft’s initial summons to appear on two misdemeanor charges of soliciting another to commit prostitution is counterproductive to the fight against human trafficking.
Trafficking and prostitution are often conflated, despite the acts having distinct legal consequences. Trafficking refers to labor trafficking or sex trafficking, or both, and is exploitive. It is a serious felony crime against a person that involves force, fraud or coercion.
A person who is believed to have been forced, coerced, or induced by fraud into prostitution should not be arrested for prostitution or conflated with a willing commercial sex worker. By law, these persons are considered crime victims who are, in most states, entitled to legal protections and assistance through safe harbor-type laws.
They are guaranteed certain rights, such as the right to have their identity shielded from the public. They should not be jailed to force their cooperation with investigators.
In his February 2019 press conference, a somber Palm Beach County State Attorney Aronberg said, “The larger picture, which we must all confront, is the cold reality that many prostitutes in cases like this are victims, often lured into this country with promises of a better life, only to be forced to live and work in a sweatshop or a brothel, subject to force, fraud or coercion.”
Jupiter Police Department officials admitted to recording the alleged commercial sex acts of at least 25 men—including Kraft—over a five-day period. In Indian River County, Vero Beach Police Department officials admitted that they watched 140 commercial sex acts via covert surveillance equipment.
Aronberg did not confront the fact that the women he held up to the public as human trafficking victims were also on those covert recordings and were allegedly victimized while law enforcement stood by and watched.
Aronberg also failed to mention that law enforcement used a late-night bomb scare hoax to forcefully evacuate the Orchids of Asia Day Spa so cameras could be installed inside massage rooms.
Last month, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals found that the Jupiter Police Department violated Kraft’s and others’ rights with the secretly installed video cameras. Also, by failing to take a victim-centered approach to their investigations, Florida law enforcement ended up with hundreds of low-level, misdemeanor solicitation arrests, with no cooperating victims to support trafficking charges.
The harm caused by police monitoring and intentionally recording possible, or actual, acts of victimization—without taking immediate law enforcement action—is unconscionable.
Abolitionists argue that prostitution is never voluntary and that all commercial sex workers are victims. U.S. laws state otherwise, as do many sex workers who advocate for autonomy, living wages, safer working environments, elimination of stigma, and decriminalization of prostitution.
In Denver, prostitutes are offered services, not jail time and fines. Jail and fines can increase a person’s vulnerabilities by causing them to lose employment, housing, and stabilizing relationships.
Florida State Attorney Aronberg referred to the women working at Orchids of Asia as victims and spoke about modern-day slavery. He explained that he likes to broaden the conversation, and that is why he took the opportunity to talk about the “evil in our midst” that is human trafficking.
We should all be concerned when a prosecutor uses lower level allegations to stimulate a conversation about more heinous criminal activity in which the defendants are not believed to be involved.
Reporters picked up on Aronberg’s conflation—the discrepancy between the defendants’ charges and the topic of trafficking—and began asking questions. Aronberg then admitted there was no allegation of human trafficking for any Jupiter defendant, including Robert Kraft.
To effectively combat human trafficking, the public needs to be aware of the indicators and understand what to look for when visiting massage parlors and day spas. Additionally, the public, law enforcement, prosecutors, and non-governmental organizations should educate themselves about human trafficking myths and misconceptions that can derail otherwise good-intentioned investigations.
Not all commercial sex workers are trafficking victims, but human trafficking and prostitution are often interrelated.
Those who voluntarily engage in commercial sex work are vulnerable to trafficking. Like trafficking victims, they deserve to be supported and treated with dignity and respect – not videotaped performing sex acts and terrorized by bomb threats.
Stacey Pearson is a child safety advocate and a recently retired law enforcement professional with extensive experience in complex missing, abducted and exploited children investigations. She is a doctoral student at Northeastern University, researching fatal family abduction AMBER Alerts. She welcomes comments from readers.