WORCESTER, Mass. - Nikki Bell spent years walking the streets in Worcester, selling herself to men. Now, she's created a lifeline for women who want out.
"The vast majority of them if you're having an honest conversation are going to tell you this is not what they want to be doing, right? But they feel like they don't have any other choice," said Bell.
In 2014, she founded Living in Freedom Together - or L.I.F.T. - an outreach group for prostitutes who are looking to change their lives. In the last five years, L.I.F.T. has helped more than 160 individuals involved in prostitution. Bell is trying to change the way people think about prostitution.
"I think there's this attitude of 'boys will be boys' and 'If it's two consenting adults...all of this nonsense that you hear," she said. "As a culture, we think it is OK to buy and sell human beings. That's where the problem lies."
In January, Boston 25 News followed Lawrence Police as they busted dozens of suspected prostitutes and Johns. Bell works hand-in-hand with Worcester Police to give women options outside of the court system.
"That's why we need people like her to come forward and tell their stories," said Worcester Police Captain Michael McKiernan.
Cpt. McKiernan said because of Bell's influence, the Worcester Police Department is cracking down more on the men who pay for sex. He said last year, officers arrested three times as many Johns as prostitutes.
"She's been a huge asset getting these women to come forward and report these things to us so we can address these Johns who are buying these women and assaulting them," said McKiernan.
Bell said she wasn't surprised last week when Robert Kraft was accused of soliciting prostitutes. In her experience, she said it's often men you'd least expect who are caught paying for sex.
"I think it also sends a message, right, if we're holding billionaires like Robert Kraft accountable for paying for sex, what does that say to your average John in our community? That they're going to be held accountable and this is no longer something we're going to be accepting," said Bell.
Bell says a lot of women she works with are physically abused and in danger from other men, which is why she did not want us to reveal where her organization is set up - or even show the outside of her building. But she says the women out there know who she is, know what she is doing, and where to find her.
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