Local police departments say the “oldest profession” is seeing new life on the streets of Massachusetts.
They say many communities all over the state are seeing an uptick in prostitution, in part because of the opioid epidemic and the federal government shutdown of the popular sex site “Backpage".
Boston 25 News reporter Malini Basu went undercover with officers to witness the problem first hand.
In Lawrence, police told Basu they’d seen a huge jump in arrests, especially since Backpage shut down in April of 2018.
“Last year we had a total of 76. We are 43 percent higher than that,” said Lawrence Police Chief Roy Vasque.
Five minutes into Basu’s ride along with Lawrence police, they made their first of many arrests.
It was 11 in the morning.
In most cases, it seemed the women involved were looking for quick cash.
“What were you doing?” Basu asked one woman. “Trying to get money to eat. But I didn’t agree to anything,” she replied.
“The problem we have here is, basically a symptom of the opioid crisis,” said Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera.
The town of Southbridge has just 20,000 residents, but police there told Boston 25 News their small town has been hit hard by the opioid crisis too. They told Basu many of the overdose victims there were prostitutes.
The Southbridge Housing Authority, which houses the elderly and disabled, was a popular hang-out for prostitutes according to residents we spoke with.
Southbridge Police Chief Shane Woodson witnessed the uptick of prostitution here after Backpage closed.
“They target the weaker and elderly people, spouses that passed away, they’re lonely. They initially start by saying, I’ll clean your apartment for you. I’ll clean for you. I work as a private nurse,” said Chief Woodson.
In Worcester, neighbors near Clark University tell Boston 25 News they encounter prostitution on a daily basis.
Jasmine Smith told us it's difficult to shield her daughter from the high number of “streetwalkers” in the area.
“How many would you see a day?” Basu asked Smith.
“At least 20,” Smith answered.
“These are people who are very desperate, in the throes of drug addiction. They generally aren’t pretty women, or glamorous, the idea that some people have,” said Lt. Sean Murtha from the Worcester Police Department.
In 2018, the city of Boston received a federal grant to investigate the seriousness of the prostitution problem, and to pay for training to help women trapped in the cycle.
Judge Kathleen Coffey is building a program in Boston to try to help the women.
“Psychologically, they've been brainwashed and dependent on their pimp and abusers,” said Judge Coffey.
She is bringing a wide group of community leaders together, from police, to prison officials, to religious leaders, to find better ways to break the cycle of addiction and get these women off the streets.
“The reality is, they are victims,” said Judge Coffey.
Cox Media Group