Metro

Boston announces effort to cut down on sex trafficking

The city of Boston is joining a national campaign to crack down on sex trafficking by targeting people who pay money for sex, Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced at a news conference at City Hall on Friday.

Boston is the 11th city to join Cities Empowered Against Sexual Exploitation, an initiative that calls for catching and prosecuting sex buyers, as well as offering services to victims of sex trafficking.

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Walsh said the city aims to reduce solicitation of sex online by 20 percent and street-level prostitution by 80 percent over the next two years.

“The issue of the exploitation of women is something we really have to raise to a new level,” Walsh said. “We will not tolerate sex trafficking in the city, no matter what.”

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Through the CEASE network, the city will involve survivors, community members, government and law enforcement officials, and business leaders to eradicate sexual exploitation, Walsh said.

Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans stressed the need to track down and punish buyers.

“If we don’t reduce the demand for sex, we’re never going to get on top of this issue,” he said.

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Officers are consistently conducting sting operations to catch and charge “johns,” Evans said, and those efforts will continue in the next two years to help the city reach its goal.

The CEASE initiative also involves providing services for victims and survivors of sex trafficking — a point Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey emphasized.

“This is a human rights issue,” she said. “It goes to the heart and soul and fabric of our community.”

Sexual exploitation affects girls everywhere, regardless of race, ethnicity, or geography, Healey said. The people who buy sex are also diverse. Often, they are white, middle-class men with families in the suburbs, she said.

“This is an act that knows no bounds,” Healey said.

Audrey Morrissey, associate director of an advocacy group against sex trafficking and a survivor of sexual exploitation herself, said she wished the city had a program like CEASE in place when she was a teenager.

“It would’ve been something to know that the mayor and the attorney general cared about what happened to me. Because I came from a place where no one cared what happened to me,” she said.

Morrissey was a teenager when she was “manipulated, seduced, and tricked” into prostitution, she said. It took her 14 years to escape that life.

It is time, she said, to end victim shaming and put the spotlight on sex buyers. The city is moving in the right direction, she said.

“It is amazing to be someone who has lived this and watch history change,” Morrissey said. “To see something done about it, it’s amazing.”

Aneri Pattani can be reached at aneri.pattani@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @apattani95.
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