On April 5, state officials announced the creation of a new human trafficking unit within Massachusetts State Police that will focus on the sexual exploitation of children, according to a statement from the office of Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito.
The four-person state-police team led by veteran detective Lt. Pi Downsbrough will work closely with the Department of Children and Families and assist local law enforcement with investigations.
“Our administration is pleased to announce these critical reforms … to target the drivers of trafficking and do more to keep our children and communities safe,” Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said in a press conference on Tuesday April 5.
The announcement, which comes at the start of sexual assault awareness and prevention month, is part of a new set of policies to combat human trafficking and includes a mandate that makes sexual exploitation reportable in the state, whether the person being reported is a caregiver or not.
“Any condition involving the sexual exploitation of children will be a condition that requires a report,” Polito said.
The report will require the DCF to take action, and the report will be immediately referred to the district attorney’s office, she said. In previous years, this was not the case.
“This is another example of the Department of Children and Families strengthening its policies and furthering its commitment to child protection and safety. We are now able to track reports of suspected human trafficking among youth,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders.
“I am proud of DCF staff leadership on a federal grant that engages law enforcement and providers in proactively identifying and supporting children who have been trafficked,” said DCF Commissioner Linda Spears. “A collaborative approach is crucial to protecting children from these predators and meeting the unique needs of youth who have been victimized,” Spears said.
Over 1,300 human trafficking calls have been reported in Massachusetts since 2007, and most of these reports relate to adult women, according to the National Human trafficking Resource Center.
However, far more have gone unreported, and even less so when it comes to children.
“The buying and selling of human lives is an abhorrent practice that is still taking place in Massachusetts, and we owe it to those who find themselves unwilling participants in it to take steps to stop it,” said Gov. Charlie Baker in a press conference.
“I’m pleased to have the State Police and DCF work collaboratively to implement and create new tools to increase reporting requirements and target trafficking for juveniles,” he said.