Marty Walsh released his public safety plan today, but here’s the part of it of which many of us on his team are proudest. I’ve been in on Marty’s meetings with women working to stop this crime and help these (mostly) girls, and have been horrified at the tales they’ve told. There’s a lot of lip service being paid to the fight against human trafficking, but according to the people on the ground, it’s just talk. Marty is committed to helping them by addressing the demand side, and supporting exit strategies for women. The only other pol I’ve ever heard really talk about this facet of human trafficking is Ayanna Pressley.
Martin J. Walsh’s Comprehensive Plan to Address Commercial Sex Industries in Boston
A Marty Walsh Administration will make it a priority to systematically dismantle the commercial sex industries in Boston, and comprehensively support its survivors. Boston’s multifaceted commercial sex industry includes street prostitution, online prostitution, and human trafficking across jurisdictional lines. In recent years, there has been a significant uptick in hotel prostitution, accessed through websites like backpage.com and craigslist.org. To address this problem, this policy addresses businesses, like some hotels and taxi companies that are either negligent or complicit profiteers in these illegal operations. Marty’s approach is centered around the need for increased support services for women seeking a way out of prostitution, while getting tougher on the demand side of the equation. Too often, prostituted women are the focus of punitive measures, while the buyers, sellers, and enablers are ignored. This will change under Mayor Marty Walsh’s leadership.
As State Representative, Marty has been a part of collective progress made at the state level around combatting the issue of human trafficking. However, the local nature of the commercial sex industry crisis has yet to be fully addressed in Boston. In Marty’s many consultations with Boston Police Officers, social workers, and commercial sex survivors, one issue consistently highlighted is that Boston’s prostitution is often publicly portrayed as a problem that is brought into the city from elsewhere. While this narrative may be easier for Bostonians to digest, those working to fight commercial sex industries in this city know that it is most often our women that are the victims and our men that are the perpetrators. Cheri Jimenez from The EVA Center, one of the few Boston-based programs focused on helping former female sex workers exit this industry, notes that of the 256 women her non-profit served between 2006 and 2013, only 25 were identified as foreign nationals. Of the 231 domestic cases she saw, 165 were women from Dorchester or Roxbury. This means that Boston needs to face the fact that we have a public health and public safety crisis in our neighborhoods that is ours to fix.
Below is Marty’s two-pronged approach to addressing this crisis. The first plan involves Fighting Demand and the second involves Exit Strategies for Survivors.
Increasingly, criminals who once sold drugs or weapons are replacing their criminal commodity with prostituting women for profit. They can sell women more than once, and the number of Boston Police detectives dedicated to investigating drugs and firearms is far greater than the alarmingly small amount of detectives focused on fighting commercial sex industries. This disparity will change under Marty’s leadership. The Walsh Administration will use every tool available to hold accountable businesses that enable or profit from commercial sex industries.
A Walsh Administration will:
- Dedicate significantly more detectives from the Boston Police Department to actively investigate online and hotel-based prostitution, with a focus on criminal charges for the buyers (“johns”) and sellers (“pimps”), while providing an opportunity for prostituted women to access treatment services; this will include placing undercover female police officers in hotel rooms and on the street
- Create a multi-agency task force comprised of the City of Boston Licensing Board, Inspectional Services Department, and Boston Police Department to inform hotels and rooming houses about an increased focus on commercial sex industries and propose strict penalties for those who do not report, or who actively support, prostitution; this includes training and similar enforcement for all licensed taxi companies
- Through partnership with the Boston Police Department, Boston Public Health Commission, community-based non-profits, and universities, increase “John Schools,” a mandatory diversion curriculum for first-time sex buyers focused on the damage commercial sex industries causes women, their families, and the buyers themselves.
- Mandate that participation in such “John Schools” will cost “johns” a substantial fine ($500-$1,000), with all collected fines to pay for the cost of trainings and for police to conduct future prostitution sting operations that catch more perpetrators
- Create a Commercial Sex Industries Database operated by BPD and civilian computer analysts, to keep consolidated, statistical records of high-buyer areas and information concerning violence against prostituted women; this database will be based on existing gang intelligence-based models currently being used at the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC)
- Examine the possibility of wholly, or partly, moving massage parlor licensing back into the City of Boston’s purview to expand tougher penalties into businesses that participate in commercial sex industries
Boston has avoided dealing with this problem for too long. Marty has a 16-year record of fighting for people who have been forgotten. As mayor, he will be a leader in both addressing the needs of women struggling with this crisis and in showing the people and businesses that keep it going that Boston will be one of the toughest cities in America when it comes to fighting the demand for prostitution. Marty’s established record as a champion for human rights shows that he is the right person for this task.
Support for Survivors
Marty Walsh views the public health solution to supporting commercial sex survivors through the prism of what has been successful in supporting individuals in recovery from substance abuse. While they are not the same problem, both issues have similar levels of complexity. Just as substance abuse treatment addresses the physical, psychological, and social factors around addiction, so must the exit strategies for women exiting commercial sex industries. This is the only way that survivors’ extreme levels of trauma, codependency, and other mental health issues can be adequately addressed.
Sometimes a distinction is made between forced and free-will prostitution. Experienced professionals are increasingly eliminating this distinction, arguing that the psychological factors involved in prostitution are too complex to clearly separate. In addition to forgetting the myth that commercial sex industries are not developed and sustained in Boston’s neighborhoods, we must also dispel the division of forced vs. free-will prostitution. Whether a woman is forced by another individual or not, engagement in these destructive acts is almost always compelled by the overwhelming desperation of poverty, or by something unhealthy that needs to be addressed by a comprehensive public health approach. Marty will focus on the real problems: poverty, misogyny, and the collective denial that has kept this issue in the shadows for so long.
As mayor, Marty will collaborate with City, State, and private agencies to make the following proposed changes a reality. Just as social stigmas around drug and alcohol addiction have waned in recent years, the Walsh Administration will work to be a leader in eliminating the social stigmas around formerly prostituted women. These survivors need our care and support, not our judgment.
A Walsh Administration will:
- Work to create better alternative court sentencing options that allow women engaged in supportive services an easier, less punitive path to success
- Collaborate to create safe and structured support housing for survivors, including emergency, long-term, and transitional beds (this approach is informed by work done by the Breaking Free program in Minnesota which has proven, successful outcomes)
- Increase access to properly trained mental health and trauma specialists through partnerships with local non-profits, hospitals, and neighborhood health centers
- Support continued social and vocational services focused on building, or re-building, healthy lives in the transitional phase of the exit process
- Collaborate with the state legislature on ways to serve at-risk and runaway teen girls; the dissolution of the CHINS (Child In Need of Service) law, though good in some ways, has allowed many youth in need of services to fall through the cracks
- Establish a mentorship program through the Boston Public Health Commission so survivors can proactively outreach and provide assistance to women still engaged in commercial sex industries that need support
- Work to create survivor-led trainings, in partnership with Boston Public Schools and afterschool programs, geared toward prevention and education; these trainings will include a specific focus on informing teen boys how participation in commercial sex industries damages lives and communities
Marty is committed to dismantling the commercial sex industries in Boston. He pledges to devote all of the resources needed to put an end to this kind of exploitation.
 While this policy exists in the awareness that that there are men engaged in prostitution too, it primarily focuses on women, as they are disproportionately affected by this industry.