Professor whose research is funded by the Robert Kraft family speaks on forced sexual labor

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March 8, 2019

Robert Kraft’s indictment for allegations of soliciting prostitution offers an opportunity to speak about forced sexual labor, according to a professor whose research that focuses on slavery is funded by the Robert and Myra Kraft and Jacob Hiatt fund.

Bernadette Brooten said that she doesn’t see allegations affecting the work. “If the work is important, you do the work,” she told The Brandeis Hoot.

Kraft pled not guilty to two counts of misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution in a Florida case after investigators say they captured him on videotape engaging in sex acts and later paying, according to a WGBH article.

Kraft, if convicted, would have to attend a class on the dangers of prostitution and human trafficking, pay a $5,000 fine and complete 100 hours of community service, according to the same WGBH article. The Krafts, including Robert Kraft and his late wife, Myra Kraft, have donated to Brandeis in the past, supporting the Myra Kraft Transitional Year Program (MKTYP) as well as Brooten’s professorship. Kraft has also visited Brandeis in the past, said Brooten.

In an interview with The Hoot, Brooten spoke about how consumers are the central problem in sex trafficking because without them, the trade would not exist. “In [United States] slavery, as I have understood it from a historian who has worked on this, the people who most benefited financially were not the slave traders, but rather the consumers of cotton goods who got cotton much cheaper,” said Brooten.

“I do believe that today, if there were not consumers going to seek the services of persons forced into the sex trade, there would not be a sex trade,” continued Brooten.

Brooten went on to speak about her interactions with Kraft, saying she was shocked to hear about the allegations. The last time they met, Kraft had called Brooten’s work “cutting edge,” said Brooten.

Brooten focused on how this event could shed light on the racial aspects of human trafficking. She said that there are different sexual racial stereotypes that occur with respect to different groups of people and that she’s been concerned that amid these allegations, there has been little media attention drawn to the racial implications.

“Sexuality is racialized, and race is sexualized,” Brooten said, and she emphasized the importance of examining the racial element of sexual slavery and human trafficking.

Brooten said that women of East Asian origins are often exoticized. While she does not claim that Kraft sexually assaulted anyone, she worries that the women involved were of East Asian origin, and she wonders what role the harmful stereotypes played. She said that even the name, the Orchids of Asia Day Spa, has an exotic element to it.

“In the various forms of slavery that we in the feminist sexual ethics project have worked on, we have found that de facto, sexual exploitation occurs within slavery in all kinds of systems through history,” said Brooten.

“Some people may look at contemporary sex trafficking and think of it as a thoroughly modern phenomenon, and it is modern in the sense that modern technologies are used, but the phenomenon of enslaved persons having to perform sexual acts is not new,” she continued.

Brooten said that she has learned through her work on the Roman period and early Christianity  that in examples like the city of Pompeii, with a population size of 10,000 to 12,000 people, there were several dozen brothels and many of the people in those brothels were enslaved women, girls and boys.

“Slavery never ceased to exist,” said Brooten. “People think that slavery ended when it became illegal, but people do many things that are illegal.”

In addition to Brooten’s position at Brandeis, Robert Kraft, his deceased wife, Myra Kraft, and his deceased father-in-law, Jacob Hiatt, founded a position in Jewish studies in the department of religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, M.A.

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