A federal crackdown on drug dealers has taken some of Boston’s most dangerous offenders off the streets, but it is driving some dealers and gang leaders to pursue another line of work: prostitution, the Boston Globe reports. Law enforcement officials and victim advocates say girls as young as 14 have become a prized commodity for criminals who would rather exploit them than run the risk of serving a long federal sentence for dealing drugs. “The girl has become the new drug,” said Kelley O’Connell, who runs the Boston Police Department’s human trafficking unit.
The trend is in part a consequence of the comparative ease of sexual exploitation in the digital age. Pimps can advertise girls and women online – a way to increase demand and avoid street arrests. Some teenagers have recoiled from crime entirely, deciding to stick with school and seek legitimate jobs rather than deal drugs. Others have turned to theft. The greatest impact has been on human trafficking. Most fledgling pimps are men in their late 20s and early 30s who served time in prison for drugs, have recently been released, and have settled on a new source of illicit income. Tracking the change through statistics is difficult because law enforcement is focusing less on arresting prostitutes than on tracking down the people who appear to be exploiting them.