Human Trafficking Hiding in Plain Sight

Though Wellesley, Massachusetts ranks as one of the best places to live in America, it now has a small business shut down by joint local, state and federal law enforcement officials. The crackdown busted the stereotype that prostitution and human trafficking only take place in big, gritty cities — it had occurred here, in a small, concealed suburb.

“I can say that I’ve met some of the women involved,” Boston Police Sgt. Donna Gavin said. “I think in several of the cases, they didn’t come here to be involved in that industry. They came here thinking that they were going to have a better life. And it turned that they were forced into prostitution. However, they weren’t keeping the money. You know, some of them had paid, their families had paid money for them to come here. So that, that certainly would be paying off a debt.” Gavin heads the Boston Police Department’s Human Trafficking Unit, part of a statewide task force charged with crushing an illegal industry that operates mainly underground and via the Internet.

The so-called “sex trade” no longer lives in designated red light districts. Today prostitution occurs in brothels, apartments, nail salons, hotels — all highlighted for interested parties in online ads and alternative newspapers. And where there is prostitution, experts say, there is human trafficking.

“There are well-organized groups that are involved with this,” said Somerville Police Chief and Massachusetts Human Trafficking Task Force member Thomas Pasquarello. “These aren’t small, you know, mom-and-pop type organizations. These are well-funded, well-functioning, well-trained organizations responsible for exploiting and bringing these people to the United States.”

Trafficked women — many of them non-citizens — travel by planes, vans, cars, buses and trains along the Northeast Corridor from New York and back again. The route could be likened to a reverse Underground Railroad where individuals are bound in captivity rather than heading towards freedom.

Learn more at Phillip Martin’s WGBH News article: Human Trafficking: Hiding in Plain Sight.

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