In Worcester, advocates give voice to sexually exploited (T&G)

WORCESTER – Nicole Bell is nearly unrecognizable to the people who knew her years ago.

Athena Haddon, program director at Everyday Miracles Peer Recovery Center, said the woman today is striking in her presence, confidence and spirit, miles from where she started out. To others close to their cause, Ms. Haddon often refers to Ms. Bell’s transformation as inspiring.

Ms. Bell, 35, suffered from more than a decade of sexual exploitation, which began in her teen years. She moved to Worcester eight years ago from the South Shore seeking treatment, she said.

“I had hopes and dreams like everyone. … I did not choose this life,” she said inside City Hall on Monday morning. “I spent most of my time between street corners and jail cells.”

Ms. Bell left a life of prostitution two years ago and today, she acts as an aide to Ms. Haddon and Melissa Tarallo, a city-funded outreach specialist. They work together to reach the predominantly female population of prostitutes in the city.

Ms. Bell has also organized a weekly support group in the Main South neighborhood along with Lora Glenn of Woo Church.

“I am using my once-silent voice to stand for others,” Ms. Bell said.

Monday, in honor of National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, she shared her story publicly in a presentation to officials and other survivors. Several in the room nodded knowingly as she spoke. Some teared up.

Officials, including Worcester Police Capt. Paul Saucier, said the city has made tremendous strides in addressing sexual exploitation and human trafficking locally. Across the country, law enforcement has pushed to target the clientele rather than the prostitutes. Capt. Saucier said in Worcester, police made 72 prostitution-related arrests in 2015, 49 of them men – more than double the number the year before.

Continue reading the rest here In Worcester, advocates give voice to sexually exploited —, 01/11/2016