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The dark business of human trafficking is, of course, more pervasive than one man alone — and you don't need to go to Florida to find stories about it. You need only look at local headlines from Beverly, Lynn and Springfield to see a steady drumbeat of alleged trafficking crimes taking place all over Massachusetts.
Those are a few of the headlines coming out of state Attorney General Maura Healey's office over the last year. Since Gov. Deval Patrick signed the state's anti-trafficking law in 2011, more than 40 people have been charged in connection with trafficking crimes.
My Life My Choice is a Boston-based nonprofit that support victims and survivors of sex trafficking. Associate director and national survivor leadership director Audrey Morrissey says a common public perception is that trafficking is more rampant among non-citizens — but young women and children born in the U.S. can be victims of trafficking too. The two populations share distinct vulnerabilities.
"Number one: poverty. When someone does not have resources that a lot of us take for granted, and someone promises a new way to live, right? A lot of disruption in the family. Could be, what makes them vulnerable, they have no family," she says.
Poverty and family upheaval are universal stressors that people who operate in human trafficking, both abroad and in Massachusetts, use to prey on their victims.
Fear — especially for those who have been trafficked from other countries.
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Susan Church, a Boston-based immigration attorney, says one of the most common fears among non-citizen victims is being deported.
"I would definitely say that victims of human trafficking are the most frightened, the most vulnerable, the most underground of most of the crime victims that we work with," Church says.
There are options for victims who are willing and able to come forward. The humanitarian T visa allows a victim of trafficking who cooperates with authorities to stay in the U.S. for several months and potentially apply for residency. The federal government issues a maximum of 5,000 T visas a year, a cap that's hardly ever reached.
But after stories like that of Robert Kraft's alleged sex solicitation in Florida, Church says that might change.
"I expect that in cases where high-profile trafficking hit the news, you will start to see lawyers screening better for T visa eligibility and then you will see the cap reached," she says.
At Boston University's Immigrants' Rights & Human Trafficking Program, director Julie Dahlstrom says the clinic sees a range of clients and cases. Some include victims trafficked into massage parlors like the one investigated in Kraft's case.
"I would say we see a variety of different kinds of ethnicities and this is not something that only impacts U.S. citizens or individuals who are, you know, from a particular community," she says. "Unfortunately, it is across the board."
The executive director of My Life My Choice, Lisa Goldblatt Grace, says her group is seeing increasing referrals of young people who may be caught up in sexual exploitation, which she attributes in large part to a better understanding of the issues.
"Part of that is really the result of more and more folks are getting educated and are realizing that young person in front of them isn't a delinquent but actually is in need of support."
According to Goldblatt Grace, on average, the young people referred to them for services are between 13 and 15 years old. She's hopeful that offering them support at a young age can help ease the transition out of sex work.
This segment aired on February 26, 2019.
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