By Rachel Chinapen, New Haven Register, on January 30, 2014—
“The first time Audrey Morrissey was picked up by a “John,” she got in the car to find a white male flashing his police badge in her face.
Morrissey, then 16, wasn’t arrested. Instead, the officer requested a sexual favor in exchange for her freedom.
The next 14 years of Morrissey’s life were spent in and out of the “combat zone” of Boston, Mass., as she worked for different pimps and strip clubs, gave birth to her three children and battled her addiction to heroin.
About 200 social workers, law enforcement workers, hospital administrators and others listened to Morrissey, 51, describe how she became a survivor of domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) at the state’s first full-day forum on the issue.
“I will never forget him putting a blade to my throat, and he began to tell me all the ways in which he was going to rape me,” Morrissey said, recalling one of her experiences.
Morrissey is now the associate director of the Justice Resource Institute’s My Life My Choice program. She mentors commercially sexually exploited girls and spearheads public awareness initiatives and preventative educational training.
The Department of Children and Families has identified 195 child survivors since January 2008. The children range in age from 11 to 17. It’s estimated that hundreds of thousands of people are trafficked — for both labor and sex — in this country annually, according to The Polaris Project, a national anti-trafficking organization.
Department of Children and Families Commissioner Joette Katz said people often watch movies or read things and think of sex trafficking as an overseas problem.
“No, it’s going on in your backyard,” she said.
Katz said DMST isn’t a new issue, but suspects there was a sense of “shame” that prevented people from talking about it sooner.
“The 200 children that we’ve identified were largely kids in our care, so we failed them,” she said. “Nobody wants to talk about their failures, but you have to talk about your failures to be able to achieve success.”
Katz said raising awareness about DMST and engaging youth in preventative education is important to preventing more children from falling “prey.” Once a child is already a victim, Katz said it’s a matter of getting that child to “self-identify,” something Morrissey’s story proved can be difficult.
Morrissey’s first pimp was the father of her first child, her first love and her first sexual relationship. His control started with taking her welfare money and convincing her to steal things for him to prove her love. The relationship quickly escalated after her first visit to the “combat zone,” an adult entertainment district in Boston.
“When he said to me, “We could get a car, an apartment, it’d be you, me and our daughter’ … that was my fantasy anyway,” she said. “The next time we drove by the combat zone, his cousin left his other two girls, and it was just the three of us. I got out of the car; they pulled around the corner.”
Once her first pimp went to jail, Morrissey thought she had it all figured out and decided she would be safer in the strip clubs.
“Now I’m better, I’m not on the streets anymore,” she said.
By the age of 20, Morrissey found herself involved in an abusive relationship with a new pimp. She also found herself with an addiction to heroin, and later, a newborn baby who was born addicted.
DCF social work supervisor Stefania Agliano pointed out that many times a woman engaging in prostitution around the age of 35 or 40 was once a 14-year-old. Additionally, Agliano said while providing services for exploited children is critical, “our efforts will be for nothing” if no one addresses the reality that there are people who want to have sex with these children.
“The demand drives the supply,” Agliano said. “If we didn’t have people out here who wanted to have sex with children, we wouldn’t be at this conference, would we?”
Agliano recalled the youngest victim the department has worked with, an 11-year-old girl trafficked by her 29-year-old boyfriend, she said.
“The biggest problem for me, though, is that there were people that wanted to have sex with an 11-year-old,” she said.
Morrissey said it’s important to target “middle school-aged” girls with preventative education because they’re old enough to understand but not old enough to tune out the information. She said things are much better for youths now because there are resources in place.
Now, 21 years a survivor and a recovered addict, Morrissey said she can relate to young girls about the “intensity” of what they are experiencing. Even with a blade to her throat, she said all she could think about was what would happen to her if she got robbed and had to return to her pimp with no money.
“I remember I was hiding the money, I could see the money sticking out of my shoe, and as I was taking my clothes off to be raped, making sure he didn’t see my money,” she said. “Because I thought, oh my God, I could survive the rape, but I’m not going to survive what the pimp is going to do when I say, ‘Some trick just took all the money.’”
Social workers describe the relationship between a victim and a trafficker as “complex.” Katz said in many cases a young girl is not going to go willingly with police and might kick and spit on the officer out of fear.
“They’re going to try and get away because they’re scared, because no one’s ever been there for them before,” she said. “They’re going to want to go back to their pimp because they’re scared to death of what’s going to happen to them if they don’t.”
Katz spoke to the importance of educating people about DMST, including people in the medical field, schools and law enforcement agencies. She said she would also like to see magazines do some “due diligence” to make sure women advertised in their magazines for escort services are at least of age.
‘We all have to partner, we have to identify, we have to recognize and be able to treat,” she said.
Call Rachel Chinapen at 203-789-5714. Have questions, feedback or ideas about our news coverage? Connect directly with the editors of the New Haven Register at AskTheRegister.com.”
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