Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Victims, not delinquents

By Yvonne Abraham, Globe Columnist via @ArchiveDigger

ARLINGTON — For legislators still in need of a reason to pass obscenely overdue human trafficking legislation, Norman S. Barnes has provided.
In case you missed the nauseating news, Barnes is accused of abducting a 15-year-old, holding her captive for 11 days, and forcing her to work as a prostitute in three counties. He was arrested May 19, after the girl escaped from a Quincy hotel room.
It’s a horrific story. But it’s just an extreme example of a scenario playing out all over this state every week, as minors are coerced into selling their bodies to enrich an army of pimps.
Head over to the Germaine Lawrence adolescent treatment center in Arlington and you’ll find plenty of girls who were pressed into prostitution as minors: At least 20 of the 80 girls at the center — most of them runaways — have sold their bodies for shelter, or drugs, or to avoid beatings.
As awful as it is, the story of the girl we’ll call Aya isn’t unusual. She’s 15, with dark hair and an effervescence that seems miraculous once she starts talking.
For half of Aya’s life, her drug-addicted mother was barely present in their Fall River home, unable to protect the girl from a family friend who sexually abused her when she was 9.
Aya was a sitting duck — 11 years old, sure of her worthlessness — when a 16-year-old at school took an interest in her.
“He was my first love,’’ she said, during a lunch break at Germaine Lawrence. Aya loved him even after he started hitting her.
“He made me believe I deserved it,’’ she said matter-of-factly, piling potato chips into a ham sandwich.
“After a while he said, ‘If you really love me, you’ll have sex with my friend. I don’t want you to do this, but can you just help him out?’ He promised me money and clothes and anything I wanted.’’
Instead, she got more beatings, and more of his friends — about 20 of them, who paid the 16-year-old for sex with her. “I knew he didn’t love me, but I didn’t want him to leave me either,’’ Aya said.
Eventually, a worker for the Department of Children and Families saw Aya’s bruises and placed her in foster care. Once out, Aya went right back into the life, this time allowing somebody she’d met online to post pornographic videos of her. She started cutting herself, and was placed at Germaine Lawrence. She now gets the same services as any other sexual abuse victim might, including intensive therapy.
Scores of kids like Aya are preyed upon in this state each year, easy marks for pimps who see dollar signs in damaged souls. But because those girls are usually poor, troubled, and black or Latino, they’re barely visible. Too often, because they’re suborned into selling their bodies in more gradual, insidious ways than kidnapping, they’re not even viewed as victims: Barnes’s lawyer tried just that tack on Friday, saying the girl who escaped him was just looking for a way to avoid going to school. Some teens picked up for prostitution are treated as delinquents instead of abused children in desperate need of help. This is one seriously messed-up state of affairs.

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