By Jessica Heslam | January 16, 2020
For three decades, Peter Qualliotine has worked to stop the sex trade and he recalled a conversation with a man who wanted to stop buying sex.
“I just want to let you know I’m a good john. A lot of the girls are my friends. I would never hurt any of them physically and I would never hurt them emotionally,” the man said.
Then, the man paused. “Well, you know, I’m not really sure about the emotional thing because when you look in their eyes it’s like they’re not even there,” the man said. “It’s like they’re wearing a mask.”
Qualliotine spoke Thursday at Attorney General Maura Healey’s first-ever Human Trafficking Summit in Norwood, where 200 law enforcement officials, prosecutors and victim advocates who handle these horrific cases came together from across Massachusetts.
“Human trafficking is something that exists in communities rich and poor — rural, urban, suburban. It’s much more of a homegrown problem than people understand,” said Healey, who said her office sees girls brought “into the life” as young as 11 years old.
Victim advocates and sex trafficking survivors said sex buyers — typically white, middle-aged men with good paying jobs and families — need to be held accountable and that there would be no sex trafficking if men weren’t buying sex.
Victims carry the stigma of being sold for sex for a lifetime, while men buying sex is chalked up to “boys will be boys,” added Cherie Jimenez, who runs the EVA Center.
Qualliotine wants to see the sex buyers intervention program that he began in Seattle replicated in the Bay State. About 64% of men buying sex want to stop, said Qualliotine, who now works for Modeling Equality, a program through Boston’s EVA Center, which helps victims get out of the sex trade.
The men in Qualliotine’s program have told him: “I buy sex because the only thing I’m more afraid of than intimacy is rejection” and “I buy sex because I love sex but I hate women.”
While buyers should be arrested, Qualliotine said the culture needs to change.
Audrey Morrissey, associate director of My Life My Choice, recalled her days in “the life” when cops would tell sex buyers, “What are you doing with her? Go home to your wife and kids.”
Morrissey said decriminalizing sex work, a proposal backed by U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, would increase the demand. “I’m on the team of do not arrest the women and the children all day long,” she said. “But we must continue to hold buyers and pimps accountable.”
The women fighting for the right to sell sex, Morrissey said, have a choice. “My Life My Choice has never served one victim who had a choice,” she said.
These victims need something to change. Turning up the focus on the men driving the despicable sex trade seems like a good place to start.
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