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BOSTON — In recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, Lt. Governor Karyn Polito today announced new policies to target human trafficking in the Commonwealth led by the Massachusetts State Police and Department of Children and Families (DCF). Joined by Governor Baker and members of the administration, Polito introduced the formation of a Human Trafficking Unit within the State Police, and improved interagency coordination and communication between the State Police and the Department of Children and Families, will allow Troopers to better assist local law enforcement officials in investigations. Additionally, as part of the administration's reforms at DCF, sexual exploitation and/or human trafficking is now a reportable condition regardless of whether the perpetrator is the caregiver.
"Our administration is pleased to announce these critical reforms during Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Month to target the drivers of trafficking and do more to keep our children and communities safe," said Lt. Governor Polito, chair of the Governor’s Council to Address Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence. "The council will continue working with law enforcement and community leaders to identify more ways to eradicate this epidemic, and we look forward to more collaboration with Attorney General Healey and the legislature on future efforts to end human trafficking in the Commonwealth and beyond."
"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 Governor Baker. "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 as we work to rid our Commonwealth of this abominable scourge."
“Creating a dedicated Human Trafficking Unit within the State Police will enhance interagency cooperation and communication with the Department of Children and Families and assist law enforcement officials at all levels with their investigations of this terrible crime,” said Public Safety Secretary Dan Bennett.
“Protecting children in our care is a significant priority. 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 track reports of suspected human trafficking among youth," said HHS 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.”
“One of the most important priorities of any police department is protection of the most vulnerable members of society,” said State Police Colonel Richard D. McKeon. “This unit will be an important part of our broader mission to protect the Commonwealth’s children and teenagers.”
A new Human Trafficking Unit within the Massachusetts State Police has been created to specifically target trafficking cases involving juveniles age 18 and under, and will coordinate their efforts with the Department of Children and Families. While playing a supporting role with local police in smaller cases, the Human Trafficking Unit will collaborate with local law enforcement on the investigations of larger trafficking cases. Detective Lieutenant Pi Downsbrough will lead the team of three (3) other State Police Troopers.
A key change to DCF's new protective intake policy spearheaded by the Baker-Polito Administration is that the victimization of a child through sexual exploitation and/or human trafficking must be immediately referred to the District Attorney, regardless if the person responsible is a caregiver or not. With the support of a five-year federal grant awarded in 2014, DCF is partnering with county-based Children's Advocacy Centers to establish multi-disciplinary teams (MDTs) to respond to DCF referrals. MDTs are now operating in Suffolk, Hampden, Bristol and Barnstable/Dukes Counties, with the remaining counties coming online by fall 2018. The grant also provides training and technical assistance to each county, the MDTs, and youth-serving organizations, and assists with updates to DCF policies to include human trafficking and the needs of victims and at-risk youth.
According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, over 1,300 human trafficking calls have been reported in the Commonwealth since 2007—and a majority of cases involve the sex trafficking of adult females. This statistic does not account for cases that are underreported, which continues to be a major challenge for law enforcement and state agencies, like the Department of Children and Families, as they seek to identify the drivers of human trafficking in our state. As reported by the Support to End Exploitation Now (SEEN) Coalition, a program that partners with public and private agencies for child victims of commercial sexual exploitation, 70 percent of their referrals involve DCF as child welfare is identified as a risk factor for children who are victimized by trafficking.
Separately, with the support of a five-year federal grant awarded in 2014, DCF is partnering with county-based Children's Advocacy Centers to establish Multi-Disciplinary Teams (MDT) to respond to DCF referrals. MDTs are now operating in Suffolk, Hampden, Bristol and Barnstable/Dukes Counties, with the remaining counties coming online by fall 2018. The grant also provides training and technical assistance to each county, the MDTs, and youth-serving organizations, and assists with updates to DCF policies to include human trafficking and the needs of victims and at-risk youth.
The budget proposal put forth by Governor Baker in January includes funding in the Executive Office for Public Safety to create domestic violence prevention training programs for local law enforcement and a best practice toolkit for cities and towns. The Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 budget proposal also includes an additional $200,000 over FY 2016 to fund the annualization of four domestic violence specialists brought on in FY 2016, as well as a $93,000 increase over FY 2016 (to $4.5 million) for the Department of Public Health's Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) and Pediatric SANE Program.