A woman who was was forced into prostitution as a teenager spoke at the state's first conference on domestic sex trafficking.
Audrey Morrissey, 51, is a Massachusetts resident who detailed how she was forced into prostitution after suffering from low self-esteem and lack of nurturing at home. She eventually turned her life around, and now counsels young girls through the initiative, My Life My Choice.
The non-profit provides training, survivor mentoring, and prevention outreach to agencies across the country, including Connecticut's Department of Children and Families, which co-hosted the conference.
Morrissey said middle school girls between the ages of 12 and 15 are the ones most often trafficked. "I am dealing with a population of girls," she said, "where the most common thing they say is, 'I need my mother in my life, and my mother is not there, so I don't care.'"
The My Life My Choice curriculum is used to help girls in Connecticut group homes. Morrissey said Connecticut and Massachusetts are examples of states where support systems are in place for victims -- something that didn't exist when she was a teen.
DCF Commissioner Joette Katz said that minor sex trafficking is not just a problem overseas. According to DCF, almost 200 children in the state have been identified as being trafficked in recent years. Right now, a child victim as young as eleven years old is in DCF custody. In the past, Katz said that minors were arrested for prostitution, but that's changing after the agency began collaborating with law enforcement to help these children.
Now, Katz said, more needs to be done to get the medical community on board. "We had a young lady," Katz said. "She was 15. To be quite graphic, she had genital herpes; she self-mutilated to deal with it; she had a number of STDs. After she was physically examined, we wanted her to be evaluated psychologically. What we heard was, 'Oh, she was a malingerer.' Now, really. Quite frankly, I called the hospital administrator, and told him, you have an ER doctor that needs to be educated. We can take care of that, but you need to make sure he's at the table."
The General Assembly has approved laws recently to help combat trafficking, including harsher penalties for pimps. There's a hotline to report suspected cases of minor trafficking: (800) 842-2288.