The Boston Globe, November 2023
Authorities have yet to publicly identify the politicians and other elite customers who allegedly paid for sex at brothels in Cambridge, Watertown, and the Washington, D.C., suburbs, but the prosecution of the interstate prostitution case will test whether the legal system has evolved in how it treats buyers and sellers in the sex trade. On Thursday, one day after three people were arrested on federal charges for allegedly operating a ring that catered to a wealthy and well-connected clientele, authorities would not rule out either federal or state charges against hundreds of men who bought sex. Among that group, federal authorities have said, are elected officials, military officers, business executives, lawyers, doctors, and government contractors with security clearances.
“We are working closely with our state and local partners and it is very much an ongoing investigation,” a spokesperson for the US attorney’s office said. Federal authorities said the trafficked women were predominantly Asian and were moved around the country and “exploited.” None of them have been charged. “When are we going to hold these buyers accountable?” said Audrey Morrissey, a former sex worker in what was then Boston’s “Combat Zone” area who now serves as co-executive director at My Life My Choice, a survivor advocacy group. “If people didn’t buy people, then people wouldn’t have the ability to sell people.”
Both sex work and the law-enforcement approach to it have changed over the past few decades, advocates such as Morrissey and attorneys say. The work itself has moved from interactions starting on the street to internet-driven rendezvous in out-of-the-way apartments, they say, and the criminal justice system has made strides toward becoming less punitive of prostitutes. “It’s an evolution that we’ve seen over time,” said Elizabeth Keeley, former chief of the Massachusetts attorney general’s human trafficking division. “To some extent, perceptions have changed.” Keeley said law enforcement has begun to view the women, who are typically exploited, “more as victims rather than perpetrators themselves.”