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Panel Urges Help For Human Trafficking Victims

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A task force chaired by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley issued a series of recommendations today for combating and preventing human trafficking.

The report from the Massachusetts Interagency Human Trafficking Policy Task Force urges expanding victims services programs and setting up “safe houses” for people trying to escape from the underground sex trade, which Coakley said remains a lucrative business for its purveyors.

The 19- member  task force, which is made up of representatives from law enforcement, state government, social service agencies and human trafficking victims has been  meeting regularly since February 2012 to develop the recommendations.

The report recommends establishing a data collection exchange involving the police and social service agencies. Coakley said this will help to better define human trafficking, which she  said constitutes not just people forced into prostitution but also into slave labor.

Other recommendations include a first offender program for men arrested for buying sex and a public awareness campaign about human trafficking.

The task force report, which goes to the Massachusetts legislature, did not estimate how much it might cost to implement the recommendations.

Task force member Julie Dahlstrom of  Lutheran Social Services said the report flags gaps in victim protection, training , awareness and data collection.

Audrey Morrissey , another task force member, said she was a prostitute from the age of 16 until she became a heroin addict when she was 30.  Morrissey, who is with the organization My Life My Choice, said the state currently offers very little help for human trafficking victims who are older than 18.

The task force was established as part of a comprehensive human trafficking bill signed in 2011 by Governor Deval Patrick.  The intent of the new law was to change the focus of police and prosecutors from targeting prostitutes to going after the people who profit from the sex trade.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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