BOSTON – He gave money to a nonprofit that helps women who have survived the commercial sex industry.
He also funded the work of a professor who studies the history of forced sex labor.
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft has donated enormously to a long list of nonprofits and universities in Boston and beyond – more than $400 million over five decades, according to his company. His philanthropy has made the billionaire businessman a civic icon throughout the region.
Among his beneficiaries: people who fight sex trafficking.
Kraft, 77, is facing two misdemeanor counts of soliciting prostitution in Florida. Authorities say he paid for sexual services on Jan. 19 and 20 at Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, an operation police say is tied to an international human trafficking ring.
Kraft pleaded not guilty Thursday and has denied any illegal activity. He is scheduled to be arraigned March 27.
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Most of the many organizations that have received financial support from Kraft – some of which are now named for him – have remained silent on the charges.
But a few have spoken up.
My Life My Choice, a Boston nonprofit formed in 2002, works to end the sexual exploitation of children through programs– and advocacy. The group has led prevention groups for more than 2,000 girls, mentored more than 400 and helped draft anti-trafficking legislation in Massachusetts.
Kraft donated $100,000 to My Life My Choice in 2015. The contribution, reported by Deadspin, was hailed by the ESPN Humanitarian Awards as a “game-changer.”
My Life My Choice would not say whether it plans to sever ties with Kraft.
“Our organization’s existence is focused on ending commercial sexual exploitation,” executive director Lisa Goldblatt Grace said in a statement.
“The buying and selling of human beings is an egregious form of abuse,” she said. “We are heartbroken by the allegations about Robert Kraft. The New England Patriots Charitable Foundation has supported My Life My Choice in the past. We will await additional information before commenting further.”
Bernadette Brooten is the Kraft-Hiatt Professor of Christian Studies at Brandeis University in Waltham.
Kraft’s late wife, Myra Hiatt Kraft, was a graduate of Brandeis. The Kraft family endowed the position at the Jewish-founded college to promote interfaith relations. It’s tied to a separate Jewish studies professorship at Holy Cross, a Jesuit College in nearby Worcester.
Brooten says Kraft introduced her at an event to inaugurate the position in 1994. She says he has supported her work, which includes studying and teaching about the relationship between slavery, sexuality, religion and women.
Brooten founded and directs the Brandeis Feminist Sexual Ethics Project, and wrote “Beyond Slavery: Overcoming Its Religious and Sexual Legacies.”
She called the allegations against Kraft “disturbing” and “very saddening.”
“The most important thing for me,” she said, is “that it alerts us to, once again and perhaps at a higher level, to the problem of forced labor within the sex trade.”
Brooten says as many as 3.8 million adults and 1 million girls worldwide have been forced into the sex trade.
“I think that as a society, we need to be aware of how entrenched we are within a slavery system,” she said. “To many people, it’s simply invisible, and yet it may be just around the corner. It may be that we are consuming goods that are produced by the labor of enslaved persons.”
She pointed to chocolate from the Ivory Coast, tomatoes from Florida and sugar from the Dominican Republic.
“Or,” she added, “sexual services that people may be using but not asking the question of whether the sex workers are there by force or not.”
Brooten says she has no plans to seek a name change for the position. She says she will carry on with her work as before.
“I’m confident people will look at my work for what it is.”
Kraft has donated in the fields of health and medicine, education and academia. He’s known for dropping surprise gifts of $100,000 on a range of causes; recipients have included a center for grieving children, programs for veterans and food banks.
Several of his largest beneficiaries – Massachusetts General Hospital, where he created the Kraft Center for Community Health, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, home of the Kraft Family Blood Lab, and Columbia University, where both the campus Hillel center and the football field are named for him – have not commented on the charges or how they might affect their relationship with him.
The Genesis Prize Foundation has pledged its support of Kraft. The foundation, based in Israel, is moving forward with plans to give Kraft this year’s Genesis Prize in June.
The so-called Jewish Nobel Prize is awarded annually to leaders of Jewish heritage “who have attained international renown in their chosen professional fields” and “have made a significant contribution to improving the world.”
The organization did not respond to questions from USA TODAY. Stan Polovets, chairman and co-founder of the Genesis Prize Foundation, told the Jerusalem Post that the group would not be rescinding the award.
“Absolutely not,” Polovets said. “Robert was selected for decades of extraordinarily generous philanthropy, his unwavering support of Israel, and unparalleled success in his field of work – professional sports. Israel doesn’t have a better friend than Robert Kraft.
“The incident reported last week is unfortunate,” Polovets said. “However, as of now, it remains an unproven allegation.”
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