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BUSTED COVERAGE

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POLICE CLAIMED THAT ROBERT KRAFT'S ARREST WAS PART OF A RESCUE OPERATION. WAS IT?

SO, DID Patriots owner Robert Kraft knowingly procure the services of a ruthless ring of human traffickers, or not? If you've read much about his recent case, you'd think he most certainly had. (Kraft has pleaded not guilty to two misdemeanor solicitation charges in Palm Beach [Fla.] County court.) NFL fans aren't often asked to focus so intently on issues pertaining to immigrants in the sex industry, and, as in football, it can be hard to spot blown coverage without a little specialized education.

Authorities have painted a vivid picture of desperate women practically chained to beds as a steady stream of men live out pornographic fantasies—an image out of step with what allegedly happened during Kraft's session, as captured by hidden cameras. Police also cited the presence of condoms as evidence against the spa even while claiming that women working there were having "unprotected" sex with "up to 1,000 men a year."

These sensationalized, inaccurate portrayals tend to stick in the mind, not only because they're so compelling but also because they're familiar. They've been pushed relentlessly for years by police and faith-based groups devoted to eradicating sex work.

Credulous reporting, however well-intentioned, does a great disservice to an audience largely unfamiliar with the finer points of sex worker rights and real anti-trafficking advocacy. Here's a better way to receive the recent news.

Pay attention to the charges.

Authorities have hammered a narrative of "human trafficking," but no one arrested as part of the sting has yet been charged with it.

Look for the workers' voices.

Without statements from the women, we can't obtain firsthand information about the conditions in the massage parlors, nor can we know if women were "lured" into the work or if they knew beforehand what they'd be doing. With police involved, though, sex workers are incentivized to choose a "victim" status over that of intentional lawbreaker. Since the work is criminalized, there is no third option.

Think critically about police tactics.

Police installed hidden cameras in the Jupiter massage parlor Kraft visited by fabricating a bomb threat. The public is being asked to believe, then, that police regarded these women as "sex slaves" yet didn't hesitate to give them the traumatizing impression that their workplace, which may have doubled as their home, might be bombed.

The cops' conduct indicates little knowledge of the best practices devised by trafficking survivors, suggesting that this was a typical prostitution bust undertaken without serious consideration of what trafficked workers actually need.

Dave Aronberg, the state attorney for Palm Beach County, said on Feb. 25 that it's time for the country to have "a real conversation about human trafficking." It's unlikely that police and prosecutors will be the ones to start it.

Charlotte Shane is the author of Prostitute Laundry.