BOSTON — Attorney General Maura Healey on Thursday announced the indictments of five people in connection with three separate human trafficking schemes in Massachusetts, bringing the number of people charged under the 2011 human trafficking law to 25.
"There's a commonly-held misperception out there that women willfully chose to engage in what is sometimes called the world's oldest profession, but that's simply not true," Healey said. "Little girls grow up wanting to be many things, they don't dream about careers locked up in hotel rooms and motel rooms selling their bodies as commodities, forced to endure the gravest indignities."
Healey announced the indictments of Courtney Nicholopoulos, 40, of Hubbardston; Jon Lowell, 45, of Hubbardston; Elena Gaston, 61, of Revere; Carlos Velasquez, 49, of Chelsea; and Harold Lucas, 61, of Lowell.
She specifically cited the charges against Lucas, who allegedly supplied multiple women with the powerful opiate fentanyl to coerce them into commercial sex. Lucas allegedly distributed the drug to the women two or three times a day before dropping them off at various locations where they would solicit themselves and engage in sex for money. The money was then remitted to Lucas, who at times required the women to meet a quota of sexual encounters per day, according to Healey's office.
"There is a significant problem right now with respect to the use of opioids, fentanyl, heroin, other drugs, crack cocaine, you name it, as a means for luring victims into this industry," Healey said. "As you know, the state is dealing with a terrible scourge when it comes to heroin, fentanyl and opioids and that certainly plays out in these investigations."
According to My Life My Choice, a survivor-led organization working to end commercial sexual exploitation, the national average age at which a victim becomes involved with the sex trade is roughly 14. In Massachusetts, 80 percent of victims served by My Life My Choice had previous involvement with the Department of Children and Families.
Noting the connection between abuse, neglect and trauma in childhood and sexual exploitation later in life, Healey praised the announcement earlier this week by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito that a dedicated State Police unit will work with other law enforcement and state agencies as "a collaborative team of people to really drill in and help expose the problem" of human trafficking, particularly when it involves minors.
"Human trafficking is a crime that lurks in the shadows. The perpetrators prey on victims who often come from troubled situations. These victims often have no support systems and can see no other alternatives. The traffickers count on those young women not cooperating with police," Massachusetts State Police Col. Richard McKeon said. "By ensuring that we support those victims we can give them the safety they need to break the cycle of abuse, cooperate with our investigation and take the perpetrators off the streets."
Because the crime often takes place out of sight of authorities and many victims are hesitant to come forward, Healey said it is difficult to estimate the number of potential victims in Massachusetts. But, she said, human trafficking is "pervasive" in the state.