Everett City administration workers were just in the midst of getting ready to launch a human trafficking campaign when – only steps from City Hall – a massage parlor was busted where a woman was offering prostitution to an undercover police officer – a woman that police are looking at as being trafficked in for the sex trade.
Such situations exist all over Greater Boston on every corner and in every business district, and just ahead of thousands more people coming to Everett for the Encore Boston Harbor casino, it’s exactly why the City chose to pursue the idea of putting a stop to human trafficking right now.
That priority by the administration resulted in Everett winning a coveted grant sponsored by the City of Houston and a foundation set up there to combat human trafficking. Everett is only one of 20 cities nationwide that won the first round of the program, called the Ten-Ten Municipal Fellowship, and the only city in the northeast.
“We became aware of an opportunity in November where you work with Houston on the issue of Human Trafficking – both sex trafficking and labor trafficking,” said Catherine Rollins Denisi of the Mayor’s Office. “Interestingly, the labor trafficking is far more common, but sex trafficking gets more publicity. We applied in November because we know it’s an issue everywhere. We’re not talking about this as an Everett-only issue or an urban issue. We know it’s everywhere. From research, we know when you have proximity to an airport and are targeting international tourism, you need to be proactive on this from a municipal standpoint. In anticipation of the casino opening, we know there are going to be thousands of tourists and potentially growth in this.”
Mayor Carlo DeMaria said he is happy to take a pro-active step to working with officials in Houston in combating human trafficking.
“Given recent media headlines, I know that many people have been discussing the crime of human trafficking,” he said. “And over the coming months, my administration will be working to raise public awareness about human trafficking, which knows no borders and happens in communities across the state and the nation. I am proud that, since November of last year, the City of Everett has been one of 20 cities in the country to participate in the Human Trafficking Response Ten/Ten Muni-Fellowship, led by the City of Houston and Mayor Sylvester Turner. We will implement the municipal best practices established in Houston, and most importantly, we will turn to our community to help us with this critical work.”
Houston began the initiative because it was one of the cities in America with the largest problem of human trafficking. They were drawn to the issue when a local church identified that women were being trafficked, and mounted a letter-writing campaign. After some 5,000 letters, the City of Houston was on board. They were the first in the U.S. to bring on five full-time workers to investigate human trafficking, and also to cross train existing employees to be able to spot signs of a trafficking operation.
In Massachusetts, there were more than 3,000 reports of human trafficking, and Denisi said that is probably low because it is an underreported crime.
“You know that’s just the tip of the iceberg because it is very under-reported,” she said.
As Denisi was working on the grant, traveling to Houston and learning from them, several things happened to bring human trafficking into the spotlight – including the case against Patriots owner Robert Kraft and the bus of the massage parlor a few blocks from City Hall.
Denisi said it gives good momentum to the effort that Everett is about to launch.
Part of the effort will be launching an awareness campaign for the public to know that women at such places are being trafficked and, sometimes, held against their will. Denisi said many people don’t know exactly what is going on, and the awareness campaign will bring light to that, as well as give information about how to report it.
“Part of this will be letting the residents know there are victims of trafficking in our community and communities around us,” she said.
That campaign is titled, ‘Watch for Traffick’ and it will soon be part of a major blitz of information coming from the city through all media sources.
An early initiative is to work with the Procurement Office to create contract language for all vendors to sign saying they will not be using trafficked labor to the best of their knowledge.
That, she said, is something the federal government did, and larger cities are also doing.
“We know we are significantly smaller than Houston or other big cities, but we think it sends the right message.”
Other early ideas include working with taxi drivers and other ride operators to post stickers in their vehicles, and to also be prepared to spot the signs of trafficking.
“These transportation operators are very commonly used to transport victims of trafficking,” she said. “We would like to get them to recognize and report the signs, but even just partnering with them to put the sticker in their vehicles would be helpful.”
The initiative will kick off this month, and will be in place for the run-up to the opening of the casino.
If you are a victim of human trafficking or know someone who might be, help is available (in 200 languages) by calling the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or sending a text to BeFree (233733).