After charging Patriots owner Robert Kraft with soliciting prostitution, the Jupiter police claimed they have video evidence to prove it.
While charges against New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft for soliciting prostitution brought national attention to the issue of sex trafficking on Friday, data, expert opinion and cases from around the USA show how widespread the problem is.
Sex trafficking accounted for 6,081 of the more than 8,500 reported cases of human trafficking in the United States in 2017, according to statistics from the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
There is no official estimate of the total number of human trafficking victims in the U.S. Polaris, a non-profit that operates the hotline on human trafficking, estimates that the total number of victims nationally reaches into the hundreds of thousands when estimates of both adults and minors and sex trafficking and labor trafficking are aggregated.
Illicit massage or spa businesses, similar to the ones in the Florida case, were the top location or industry where sex trafficking occurred in 2017, with 714 reported cases, according to the hotline’s data.
More than 9,000 illicit massage businesses operate in every state around the country, bringing in a stunning $2.5 billion each year, according to estimates in a 2018 report by Polaris on trafficking in these businesses.
“It’s not accurate to understand these cases as local,” Bradley Myles, CEO of Polaris, “The places are being overlooked and underestimated.”
Characteristics of the average illegal spa that Polaris details fit with how prosecutors described ones in Florida.
Ten spas were shut down in Orlando, Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast after a several months of investigation revealed women there were in “sexual servitude,” according to arrest records.
At Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, Florida, where Kraft allegedly paid for sexual services, women – many of them from China – lived in the spa and were not permitted to leave, according to Martin County Sheriff Will Snyder.
Kraft, who has been charged but not arrested, denied the allegation. He is one of hundreds of alleged clients facing charges in the recent Florida stings.
More: Robert Kraft investigation: What we know about Patriots owner’s sex solicitation allegations
Like some of the spas that allegedly engaged in sex trafficking in Florida, the average illicit massage business is connected to at least one other, according to Polaris.
Myles said most are tied to larger criminal networks that have links to the countries where many of the women at the spas are from. Many of the women are coerced to work in the businesses and often earn no wages and have no autonomy, Myles said.
“These girls are there all day long, into the evening. They can’t leave and they are performing sex acts,” Vero Beach police Chief David Currey said of the investigation. “Some of them may tell us they’re OK, but they’re not.”
Beyond sex-trafficking at just massage spas, the United States prosecutes hundreds of cases each year and wins scores of convictions on charges of trafficking with respect to slavery and sex trafficking of children by force, fraud or coercion, according to an analysis of federal records by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
In fiscal year 2018, 189 cases resulted in convictions, according to TRAC’s data.
‘Mecca of sex trafficking’
In March last year, a report estimated 340 young adults and children have been victims of sex trafficking in Milwaukee in a four-year period.
“We’ve heard from different sources that we’re the mecca of sex trafficking, but we need to be able to measure that,” Mallory O’Brien, director of the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission, which participated in the report, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at the time.
“This was our opportunity to do that,” she said. Research found 340 people ages 25 and younger who were confirmed or believed to have been victims of sex trafficking in Milwaukee between Jan. 1, 2013, and Dec. 31, 2016.
Overall in Wisconsin, child welfare workers confirmed 99 incidents of children and youth sex trafficking statewide from June 2017 through August, 2018, the state Department of Children and Families said in January.