By Anne Marie Delaney

Did you know that human trafficking is a problem in Boston? In October, BPHC’s Family Justice Center launched a public awareness campaign to inform residents that commercial sexual exploitation (also called the sex trade) doesn’t just happen in faraway places. You might have seen our posters in the T.

We wanted to make sure that people in Boston know that human trafficking happens here in our city, in our neighborhoods. Our young people are being “recruited” and sold for sex by pimps and are being bought by johns. Unfortunately, this is a lucrative industry in Boston and the first step to combating it is to acknowledge that there is a problem. We need to remove the cloak of invisibility of the sex trade and continue developing protections and services for victims of sexual exploitation.

In January, the city announced a policy shift that includes not prosecuting juveniles arrested for prostitution and instead offering those victims social service support. In addition, law enforcement officials refocused their efforts on the pimps who exploit juveniles. Legislative proposals are currently under consideration at the State House that would make these policies law, including increasing protections for victims and penalties for johns.

Because these crimes almost always involve fear and threatened or actual violence, it is impossible to get a complete count of the number of human trafficking victims in Boston. However, in 2010, the Boston Police Department Human Trafficking Unit investigated more than 100 cases of human trafficking. In other cases that involved youth at risk for commercial sexual exploitation, BPD made referrals to FJC partner agencies for services including emergency shelter, case management, and mentoring.

At an event to launch the public information campaign, BPHC Executive Director Dr. Ferrer explained why this is such an important public health concern: “The health consequences for victims of trafficking are wide-ranging, including physical violence, rape, psychological trauma, sexually transmitted infections, mental health, or substance abuse issues. Human trafficking is not a minor issue in Boston and often it is the most vulnerable who fall victim to traffickers and pimps.”

If you or someone you know is being sexually exploited, call 911 or the Family Justice Center at 617- 779-2100. You can learn more about human trafficking in Boston – and our efforts to stop it – at www.TheSexTradeDestroysLives.org

Anne Marie Delaney is the director of the Family Justice Center, a program of the Boston Public Health Commission. The FJC is a community of agencies providing services to individuals and families who have been affected by or exposed to domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, or human trafficking.

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