‘It's Soul Crushing': Trafficking Victims Exploited Up and Down the East Coast

Homeland Security Investigations has seen a huge influx of human trafficking cases throughout New England.  The Polaris Project’s National Human Trafficking Hotline received more than 10,000 reports of trafficking in 2021 alone

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They’re promised a better life - instead the victims of human trafficking are raped, beaten and tortured. 

Union Street in Lynn is known by advocates as an open-air market where women are sold for sex. Mary Speta, head of the nonprofit Amirah, is on a personal mission to help end the cycle of exploitation. 

“There have been some pretty rough stories from down here. Women being brutally raped by Johns, being threatened with weapons.”

Speta is also a survivor who was trafficked at the age of 19.

“We all had our self-esteem crushed, we all believed that we were a product and that there was nothing else,” she told the NBC10 Investigators.

Amirah does outreach on the streets of Lynn and offers a safe haven in their community center.  There are resources to help with recovery and housing to women like Terez, a survivor exploited up and down the east coast for years.

“Wherever the money was, that’s where we went. I got raped in Florida, a gun held to my head. It’s soul-crushing, every guy that you have to sleep with you take a piece away from you as a woman,” Terez said.

From outreach and prevention to enforcement and prosecution 

Federal agents inside Homeland Security Investigations computer forensics lab in Boston monitor the dark web for predators online. Hard drives and cell phones containing possible evidence of the crime are stacked nearby.

Homeland Security Investigations has seen a huge influx of human trafficking cases throughout New England.  The Polaris Project’s National Human Trafficking Hotline received more than 10,000 reports of trafficking in 2021 alone.

Matt Millhollin, special agent in charge of Homeland Security investigations in New England said the advent of social media has allowed people to access people from around the world much easier than they ever could before.

He described the trauma to the victims: “Once they’re working with their trafficker, they’re physically abused, they’re mentally abused, they’re held away from their families and in a living hell."

A rising number of trafficking cases

The NBC10 Investigators has been digging into human trafficking cases across New England as the numbers hit an all-time high nationwide.

Tyler Townsend was convicted of trafficking a 17-year-old girl, advertising her online and selling her for sex in New Hampshire.

Possible human trafficking is being investigated in Vermont after federal agents found women in a padlocked room during a drug raid at this home.

Boston doctor Sadeq Ali Qurasishi entered a not guilty plea for attempted sex trafficking of a child after allegedly offering money to undercover agents to have sex with a young girl. 

In Brockton, Matthew “Magic” Engram ran his illegal trade out of his home for six years. He advertised girls online and trafficked them from Maine to Florida.  The convicted trafficker used violence and threats to manipulate his victims, beating them if they refused to perform sex acts for money. Investigators said Engram recruited the girls that became victims by going to bars and restaurants and even got to the point where he had girls recruit other girls.

“The promise by Mr. Engram to the people that he had recruited was a better life, was money, clothes and a lifestyle that they thought they could not have without his presence,” said Millhollin.  He said once Engram earned their trust the women were isolated from their friends and family and forced into committing commercial sex acts.

Reginald Abraham is serving 22 years in federal prison for his crime. He connected with his victims online using a different name and unleashed his brutal wrath on women he preyed upon - torturing them physically and emotionally.  He pistol-whipped one woman living in his Dracut home, forced her to wear a dog collar and eat out of a dog bowl. Another was gang raped. Many struggling with substance use disorder were provided drugs but Abraham withheld those drugs if they didn’t bring in enough money, making them dope sick. 

The trail of trauma left behind is hauntingly familiar to the women once exploited by others who have managed to escape. Mary Speta said when a woman is ready and she makes that step, it’s life giving.  

“It’s this amazing feeling of knowing that today the trafficker didn’t win, she’s going to get her life back.”

Here’s a link to Amirah for resources: https://www.amirahinc.org/

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