Power dynamics in the human trafficking industry

Sex trafficking survivor Audrey Morrissey spoke to Boston University Summer Journalism Institute students on Aug. 6 about her experience as a survivor of sex trafficking in Boston.

Morrissey, now the Associate Director and National Survivor Leadership Director of the nonprofit organization My Life My Choice, described the experiences that she said led her to enter the sex industry at age 15, as well as the point in her life when she was able to exit.

Morrissey said she came from a family dynamic that led her to have no self-esteem. She said the vulnerabilities of girls in similar situations lead some to enter into what she called “the life,” stemming from places of desperation for love.

Morrissey became involved with a group of guys in high school that she said became her gateway into the industry. Morrissey said she was pressured into sex, which ultimately spiraled into a dominating relationship. 

“’Listen, there’s a lot of girls that like me. You’re coming here and you’re wasting my time. If you don’t want to have sex with me, I know a lot of girls who do,’” Morrissey said, quoting her then boyfriend. “I remember tears rolling down my eyes, I remember my spirit leaving me — meaning that little girl.” 

As an adult now, Morrissey has done research into what drives the minor sex industry, and said power dynamics play a large role. She claims the industry is driven by politicians and family-aged white men.

In a study by The Schapiro Group, nearly half of men involved in sex trafficking are between the ages of 30 and 39, and 65% of men are from the suburbs.

In a study conducted by Demand Abolition, it was found that currently-active high frequency buyers are much more likely than other men to make over $100,000 per year. Another study’s results showed 84.9% of men who purchased sex were Caucasian and 66.3% are married.

Soon after giving up her virginity, Morrissey found herself pregnant at 16, and she said the only time the baby’s father would come around was to take the welfare checks she began receiving on the 10th and the 25th of each month. Morrissey became involved in thieving with a friend, which led to her sitting in a car with pimps driving through what was then known as Boston’s “combat zone,” — an area where sex trafficking took place.

Morrissey sat in the back of this car with her boyfriend, his cousin, and the three girls he had working for him. 

“’If you love me, you would do the same thing,’” Morrissey said, referring to what her boyfriend said to her.

At age 16, Morrissey was tempted by the thought of love into “the life,” and she began spiraling. By age 20 she was addicted to alcohol, cocaine, then later, crack and heroin, and worked in a strip club.

“Without my permission I was a heroin addict,” Morrissey said.

Between the ages of 20 and 30, Morrissey went to detox five separate times, but after the fifth session, she was finally ready to hear the information they were providing to her, and she began the journey of recovery. 

Morrissey explained her disdain for events such as bachelor parties that she says normalize buying sex. She said as long as the privileged and powerful continue to pay, sex work will continue. 

“Why do people buy people? Because they can,” Morrissey said.

Author’s note: This summer, I had the opportunity to attend the Boston University Summer Journalism Institute. We had a press conference where Audrey Morrissey, a survivor of sex trafficking, came to speak to us about her experiences. After listening to her moving story, I wrote this article to inform the public about how power dynamics in our country drive industries such as these.