Despite what's said about Patriots' owner, not all sex workers are victims of trafficking
Was it the world's oldest profession? Or modern-day slavery?
The owner of the New England Patriots, Robert Kraft, was reportedly caught on tape "receiving" a sex act at a strip-mall massage parlor in Florida where the Yelp reviews refer to "happy endings."
Kraft was charged with soliciting a prostitute, one of hundreds of men caught in a sting.
In its reports about the arrests, law enforcement kept saying the spa was part of an "international human trafficking ring."
Human trafficking is when foreigners are lured to the U.S. with promises of a better life, but end up tricked, blackmailed or dragooned into work they didn't sign up for, such as working long hours picking strawberries. In the Kraft case, cops say, Chinese women were forced to hand-job skeezy codgers like Kraft in dingy strip-mall rub-and-tug joints.
Law enforcement has been targeting a lot of strip-mall spa joints recently. Almost always, they find human trafficking there.
There's something funny in the way the government is framing so many of its cases against hookers and Johns these days as "trafficking," instead of using words like "prostitution" or "sex work." "Trafficking" is a more loaded, nastier idea; trafficked women are victims of bad men; Sports Illustrated said Kraft was involved in "modern-day slavery."
This "trafficking" language rankles a lot of people. Billie Jo McIntire, for instance. She describes herself as a former worker in the commercial sex industry, for 18 years.
She feels like nearly every sex worker is branded as "trafficked." Not true, she says. Lots of women make the choice to work in sex. She said she worked consensually; the money was good.
Domina Elle runs a kinky dungeon in Denver, where her "personal submissive" sometimes follows her around and lets her whip him for being a naughty boy. (There's no sex going on in the dungeon, she says.)
There has been a purposeful effort to conflate all prostitution with trafficking, Elle tells Rooster. Which just confuses the situation. There has to be a boogeyman in every story, she says. And trafficking creates that easy narrative.
A CONCERTED EFFORT
Cops in Florida found sex slaves in many massage parlors in Florida; then again, sex slaves were what they're always looking for.
"Some of [the sex workers] may tell us they're OK, but they're not," Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey said in a news conference quoted by the Treasure Coast Newspapers. "We know that… even though we may have charges on some of them, we'd rather them be victims."
We'd rather them be victims. With "victims," cops are the good guys. Without "victims," they're just ending a woman's gainful employment, and ruining Robert Kraft's good time.
ORCHIDS OF ASIA
The spa Kraft went to is called Orchids of Asia, and it's definitely slipperty. Its Yelp reviews hint at what goes on there. "Table showers [are where] you lay on a table and they give you a shower with Dove body wash. In a nutshell, this isn't a place you would send your mother or daughter," one reviewer wrote. A woman upset at being given a "screwed up" bikini wax used the word "happy" five times, saying a "parade of men "turned on their happy switch" and "got a happy start to their happy ending!"
DECRIMINALIZING COULD HELP
McIntire and Elle are advocates of legislation that would decriminalize sex work.
"It's just time to let people do what they want with their bodies," McIntire tells Rooster.
By decriminalizing sex work, women could call the cops when they're being truly mistreated; beaten, swindled or actually trafficked, without worrying about getting busted themselves. And consensual acts between adults could stay private.
SIMILARITIES TO CANNABIS
A similar rebranding is happening in gray market cannabis grows. Weed is being grown by the ton in basements and rural farms in legal states. In places like Colorado, this is mostly legal — though many grow more than they're allowed. But the DEA has tried to gin up anger from the public about this, but there's not much there; with so much cannabis grown now, how much do people really care about who's growing it?
Latino immigrants — some legal, others not — grow weed clandestinely, too. They smoke the weed or sell it to friends or across state lines, just like Americans do.
But the DEA is increasingly claiming that many of these grows are staffed by "trafficked" Mexicans, held in those basements and farms like serfs or slaves in dungeons.
No doubt, some are.
But the insistence with which the DEA pushes this "human trafficking in cannabis" narrative to reporters and policy people raises eyebrows. Especially when this reporter repeatedly asked for concrete case details in a phone call to the Denver DEA, and was given none.
How many undocumented Mexicans, really, are being held in basements as victims of human trafficking, versus how many just stay in the basements as a way to make a buck and have a place to live?
A WINNING STRATEGY
With strip-mall Asian massage parlors or gray-market marijuana grows run by Latinos, it's tough to say whether the folks there are victims or perpetrators, slaves or self-empowered entrepreneurs. Law enforcement claims to know, but law enforcement is, in many respects, a businesses like any other: they have an interest in keeping enthusiasm high. They have to do branding, too.
In landing on the phrase "human trafficking," they may have found a winner that gets them headlines, sympathy, and more funding. Maybe Orchids of Asia was modern-day slavery. Maybe it was ordinary prostitution where everyone involved consents. The truth may never come to light.