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Robert Kraft, the billionaire owner of the six-time Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots was charged Friday with soliciting prostitution at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, Florida. Not three days prior, the Martin County Sherriff’s Office hosted a news conference to announce the bust of a human trafficking ring involving numerous spas in three counties, including Orchids of Asia.
The evidence indicates that Chinese women were recruited and transported to the United States under the false promise of securing legitimate jobs, only to be held captive at the spas and coerced to transact for commercial sex. Male clients at Orchids of Day could purchase a female body at the rate of $59 for 30 minutes or $79 for one hour.
Sex trafficking generates annual profits of nearly $100 billion, according to the International Labor Organization, making it the most profitable form of slavery the world has ever seen. Under the United States Trafficking Victims Protection Act, sex trafficking involves the recruitment or transfer of a person; through force, fraud, or coercion; for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation.
Victims are shamed, abused, threatened or otherwise coerced to sell their bodies to male customers. They are treated like chattel slaves in every sense of the word.
If true, Robert Kraft is one of millions
Even though slavery has been illegal in the United States since the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was passed in 1865, slavery persists in this country because there is very little real penalty for the offense. Sex slavery in particular persists because men are largely able to purchase female bodies for sexual gratification with little to no penalty. These men appear to believe that money somehow confers the right to own another human being for a period of time, like subletting property.
While the men who purchase commercial sex are by-and-large white professionals with money and power, the bodies they purchase typically belong to poor, disempowered women and children of color. This reality demonstrates that the commercial sex industry is built on the entitlement of males with money to the bodies of women without.
Beyond sex trafficking, slavery can be found at the bottom of numerous global supply chains. Around the world, slavery grips a sub-class of humanity and violently transforms their poverty, suffering and powerlessness into the delightful things we consume every day — from the food we eat, to the clothes we wear, to the phones in our pockets, to the bodies we abuse.
If the allegations against Kraft are true, he is but one of the millions of men around the world who purchase female bodies for sex every day. That said, the acute asymmetry between his wealth and power and the powerlessness of the women he is allegedly purchased puts the reality of slavery in sharp focus — money and power have throughout history allowed people to violate the dignity of the poor and vulnerable with impunity. Until this reality changes, slavery will persist.
Society must raise the cost of slavery
To that end, the authorities in Florida must be commended for the extensive investigation that led to the bust of a multinational human trafficking ring. They must further be commended for charging Kraft based on the evidence they gathered. The true test, however, will be what happens next? If the allegations are proved, to what extent will Kraft be held to account?
A first offense of soliciting prostitution in Florida carries the relatively anemic penalty of a maximum $500 fine and up to 60 days in prison. Will the National Football League impose a stiffer penalty? What about Kraft's friends and peers? What is the appropriate penalty for purchasing another person for sex?
The $100 billion in annual profits enjoyed by the global sex trafficking industry are generated almost entirely by the purchase prices paid by men for the bodies of women and children. Put another way, male demand to purchase women and children for sex drives the global sex trafficking industry. Without consumer demand, sex trafficking would not exist.
This fact suggests that the most effective way to eradicate sex trafficking would be to abolish male demand to purchase women and children for sex. That means the imposition of severe penalties that are designed to make it seem far more painful than pleasant to barter in human bodies. Public shame is certainly a serious penalty, but the imposition of far greater financial fines coupled with extensive prison time will be required before men as rich and powerful as Kraft feel that buying Chinese girls from local spas is not worth it.
Siddharth Kara is the author of several books on modern slavery. He is a senior fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health and an adjunct lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Follow him on Twitter @siddharthkara.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Robert Kraft prostitution scandal exposes depth of modern slavery, sex trafficking industry