Monday, May 26, 2008

A Mission to Save Troubled Girls

By Christie Coombs


When Kelley O'Connell goes to work each day as a Boston Police sergeant-detective, her goal is challenging but straightforward: to save young women from life as a prostitute.

For the past three years, O'Connell has headed the Boston Area Human Trafficking Task Force. Her focus is on helping runaway and displaced teens, many of whom are coerced into prostitution by what she calls street gang thugs.

"Because of technology and the ease of communication with cellphones and Internet, the problem has worsened," said O'Connell. "The Internet has brought it from the street corners to the inside, making it less obvious to law enforcement so it's been able to flourish."

O'Connell, who spent 10 years of her 23-year career working in the gang unit, said she had a challenging time "selling" other agencies, and even her superiors, on the idea that teenage girls deserved their own program.

"When you think of human trafficking, you think of people unloading from cargo ships. You don't think of teen girls being sold to men or between gangs for the purpose of sex," she said. "But through my work with gangs, I knew it existed, but we had no idea where to start. So after educating myself, I tried to educate everyone around me. It took a good two years to sell the problem to them.

"Prostitution and child exploitation know no class or racial bounds, said O'Connell. It doesn't matter if the girls are black, white, or Asian; from good families, or not; from the suburbs or the city.

A case in point: Two young girls from Norwood who got hooked up with a pimp via the Internet and disappeared to Boston. Fortunately, after three days, the girls were returned home before they became too involved in the business, she said. and are common sites where the pimps advertise, said O'Connell, who headed up intelligence for the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

Posted on O'Connell's bulletin board in her basement cubicle at her Boston office are pictures of some of the pimps she has been trying to locate.

She has a database of more than 200 young women, one as young as 11 years old, and more than 120 active pimps. Many of the girls are missing persons or runaways involved with the Department of Social Services or are involved with juvenile court's Children in Need of Services program.

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1 comment:

  1. I've only heard very little about this issue and reading this article has really taught me a lot and opened my eyes to the world of human trafficking. Your whole blog is full of information that has really had an impact on me. Every post is powerfully inspirational to help stop this problem and I want to say that you've influenced me to want to make an impact in helping to find a solution for its end.