Social Work Tackles Human Slavery Issue

Jul 2, 2014

By Rena Malai, News staff

Audrey Morrissey remembers when she was hopelessly in love with her high school boyfriend.

“I was a lonely little girl and I lived in a fantasy world,” she said. “My boyfriend was everything to me.”

That’s one reason it was easy for Morrissey’s boyfriend to manipulate her into selling sex for money. The couple had a child by the time Morrissey was 15 years old. She said she believed her boyfriend’s promises that they would live together as a family, and she often stole money when he asked her to.

It wasn’t long before he put her in Boston’s combat zone, an adult entertainment district where sex workers frequented during the 1960s and 70s.

Morrissey said her boyfriend used seduction as a tactic to manipulate her into doing things she didn’t want to do. She endured rape and beatings, and said she was even “let go” by a police officer in return for performing a sexual act on him.

“Even after the abuse started, the love I had for my boyfriend was real,” Morrissey said. “He did whatever it took for me to fall completely in love with him. I did what I didn’t want to do so he would keep loving me.”

Sex trafficking of girls — and less often boys — under the age of 18 has existed for years, but social workers and others who specialize in this area say it’s becoming more common as demand grows.

“There have always been stories of children being bought and sold, going back to the very founding of this country,” said Malika Saada Saar, executive director of rights4girls, a human-rights organization in Washington, D.C., that focuses on gender-based violence and its impact on vulnerable young women and girls in the U.S. “What we see playing out now is that there is a crisis around how the landscape of those who purchase sex has changed.”

The emergence of the Internet, the anonymity buyers have online, and a culture of impunity make people unafraid to buy children for sex, she said.

“This industry was once a landscape where adults were being purchased for sex, and that has changed,” Saar said. “The new norm has increasingly become buying children, and the demands for it can be discreet and anonymous.”

Mainstream websites like make it as easy to purchase minors for sex as buying a piece of furniture, she said, and there isn’t proof of a systematic approach to arrest and prosecute buyers. The sites use code language where a buyer will be able to interpret the “sale” of a minor for sex.

“There isn’t a culture of punishment for buyers, so they’re not afraid of being caught,” Saar said.

From the July 2014 NASW News. Read the full story here.