BOSTON (AP) - Massachusetts should provide more safe houses and other services for victims of human trafficking as part of a comprehensive plan to disrupt the sex trade, according to a new report.
A 19-member task force, created under a recent law that increased penalties for human trafficking, released its findings Monday. The panel met over the past 18 months and focused much of its recommendations on enhanced protections for children and young adults who are exploited for prostitution or forced labor.
Attorney General Martha Coakley, who chaired the task force, called human trafficking a "brutal and dehumanizing crime" that often goes unreported but can be a lucrative business for its purveyors.
"You can make a lot of money moving people for sex," said Coakley, who noted that human traffickers often work across multiple states and have become more technologically sophisticated in recent years.
The report recommends establishment of safe houses to provide both short- and long-term housing and services for people, especially young women, who are seeking to escape from continued exploitation at the hands of human traffickers.
Task force member Audrey Morrissey, who said she was recruited for the commercial sex industry at age 16 and did not get out until she was treated for heroin addiction years later, said there were too few support services for women trying to leave a life of prostitution.
While children lured into the sex trade are placed in protective custody, young adults are often treated more as criminals than victims, she said.
"There is nowhere for our adult women to go once they turn 18," said Morrissey, who now works with My Life My Choice, a program that helps adolescent girls who are considered vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
In 2011, Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law a human trafficking bill designed to change the focus of police and prosecutors from targeting prostitutes to going after the men who pay for sex with them and the pimps who profit from the transactions.
In an effort to reduce the demand for human trafficking, the task force recommended development of a so-called john school, an optional program for people who have been arrested for the first time for buying sexual services.
The report also called for improved data collection and sharing of information about human trafficking among law enforcement agencies, and enhanced training for police, health care providers, teachers and others in positions to identify potential victims.
"This crime is grossly underreported and often invisible because so much of it occurs outside of the public view," said Boston Police Superintendent-in-Chief Daniel Linskey, who was among law enforcement officials who spoke at a news conference outlining the report's findings.
The report did not offer a price tag for implementing the recommendations, but Coakley suggested that some of it could be done without public funding through partnerships with religious organizations and other nonprofit foundations.