Why Robert Kraft’s Behavior Matters to Women’s Philanthropy

Audrey Morrissey, Associate Director and National Director of Survivor Leadership at My Life, My Choice, a Boston-Based organization that has received funding from Robert Kraft’s philanthropy. (photo courtesy of My Life, My Choice)

Do major league sports leaders have a responsibility to model respect for women in everything they do? This question is fresh on the minds of many due to Robert Kraft, philanthropist and owner of the New England Patriots, being charged with two counts of soliciting a prostitute in Florida, where he was allegedly engaging in sex acts with women at Orchids of Asia Salon.

Through his philanthropy, Robert Kraft has funded initiatives specifically aimed at ending sexual exploitation of women and girls. USA Today reports that Kraft gave $100,000 in 2015 to My Life, My Choice, a Boston-based organization that works on ending child sex trafficking. Some might ask how the same man can be both perpetrating sexual exploitation and funding initiatives to end it.

“The buying and selling of human beings is an egregious form of abuse,” said Lisa Goldblatt Grace, in a statement quoted by USA Today.We are heartbroken by the allegations about Robert Kraft.” While the article goes on to say that My Life, My Choice has not decided whether they will sever ties with Robert Kraft, a post from two of the leaders of the organization gives some guidance on how those we can learn from the sex trafficking incidents related to Kraft.

The piece is entitled A Call to Action for Patriots Nation and is authored by Lisa Goldblatt Grace, Co-Founder and Executive Director of My Life My Choice and Audrey Morrissey, Associate Director and National Director of Survivor Leadership. My Life, My Choice is a Boston-based organization that helps survivors of child sexual exploitation through education, mentorship and policy advocacy. From the piece:

The heart-wrenching details emerging about the lives of exploited women forced to work at the Asian Orchid Massage parlor may have shocked members of Patriots Nation, but, sadly, were not shocking to us at My Life My Choice who deal with the realities of commercial sexual exploitation every day.

 The potential silver lining in the explosive media coverage of the Jupiter, Florida, case is a long overdue national conversation about an industry that exploits thousands of vulnerable women and children across the United States — and why it has been able to flourish for so long. This industry hides in plain sight — in strip malls and hotel rooms across the country, in well-to-do suburbs as well as under-resourced communities.

It keeps growing because of cultural norms that have allowed us to turn a blind eye. But times are changing, thanks in part to leaders like Chief Daniel Kerr from the Jupiter Police Department and extending to the media who are finally setting the record straight about the harms this industry causes and deflating the myth that this is a “victimless crime.”

 So, we are issuing a challenge to Patriots Nation who, we hope, will join us in righting this wrong:

Lisa Goldblatt Grace, Co-Founder and Executive Director of My Life, My Choice, a Boston-based organization fighting child sex trafficking. (photo courtesy of My Life, My Choice)

First, get educated. Learn about the issue. This is an epidemic and it is happening in our community and every community across this country. As service providers, we are acutely aware of the trauma, degradation and dehumanization that is part and parcel of the commercial sex industry. Among the young people we serve, the average age that they are lured, forced and coerced into the commercial sex industry is 14 years old. Most adults in the industry began when they were children. Whether the victim involved is an adult or a child, from the United States or from another country, forced by a gun to her head, forced by allegiance to an exploiter, or forced because of a lack of options—it simply does not matter. It is always wrong to buy a human being.

 Second, educate others. Whether it’s your children or your fellow Patriots fan, we need honest conversation, frank education, and a call for change regarding human trafficking.  Most notably, as pointed out by former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi, “It’s some tough conversations that parents will have to have because the New England Patriots are in the fabric of all families in this region.”  We need to educate young men that it is never okay to purchase another human being and we need to educate vulnerable girls, boys and transgender youth about how to protect themselves from exploiters.

 Third, commit to being an active disruptor.  For adults, we need to shift the narrative and explain that what is being discussed is not a punchline, a joke or fodder for a meme on social media. From bachelor parties to business trips, we need to commit to speaking up when friends or colleagues opt to participate in exploitative acts. Employers need to follow the lead of the Attorney General’s Employers Against Sex Trafficking initiative and implement zero tolerance policies for employees participating in exploitation.

 Finally, help us heal. From the women surviving the Asian Orchid salon to the young people served by My Life My Choice, service providers lack the resources they need to support the many survivors recovering from their exploitation. Do what you can to support organizations in your community.

 While Patriots Nation is reeling, we can come back from this more educated, more compassionate, and more committed to social justice in our communities. We need to say “enough!”— and end this once and for all.

Among other sad ironies, Robert Kraft was recently awarded the Genesis Prize, sometimes referred to as the “Jewish Nobel Prize,” partially for his dedication to gender equality.

Women donors have a unique opportunity to raise awareness around this incident and push for major league sports organizations to do more to aid in the fight to end exploitation of women and girls. Funders like the Ms. Foundation for Women have long advocated for these organizations to take more responsibility for remedying the problems that male-dominated sports cultures create. It might be powerful for women’s funds, foundations, and nonprofits to come out with a joint statement demanding a higher standard of behavior for sports leaders toward women in the wake of the Robert Kraft incident. Further, women funders can use peer influence to help other philanthropists recognize the need for more funding to end gender-based violence.

Please visit My Life, My Choice for information about their work.

Link to the original version of this editorial.

Link to USA Today Article.


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Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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