Lowell, MA

Tactics Used

Auto Seizure
Buyer Arrests
Community Service
Employment Loss
Identity Disclosure
IT Based Tactics
John School
License Suspension
Neighborhood Action
Public Education
Reverse Stings
SOAP Orders
Web Stings

Lowell is an older industrial city of about 114,000 residents, located approximately 30 miles northeast of Boston, MA. Prostitution and sex trafficking activity have been well-documented in the city, and Lowell has been an area of operation for larger prostitution rings and human trafficking networks that span multiple communities (e.g., Lawrence, Tewksbury, Andover, Haverill), states, and countries. This activity and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates result in complaints to law enforcement agencies from residents and businesses.

Among the more serious crimes associated with the local commercial sex market is child sex trafficking, and the rape and homicide of prostituted and trafficked women. For example, in 2016 a Lowell man was arrested and in 2017 found guilty by a jury in Middlesex Superior Court for sex trafficking a child. The man had raped a 13-year-old girl and then forced her into prostitution, and had given her drugs to to establish addiction and control. He was charged with drug and sex trafficking charges, including two counts of aggravated rape of a child and trafficking of a child under the age of 18 for sexual servitude. He was sentenced to a state prison term of 15 years to life. In 2018, one of the men who paid to sexually abuse the child was sentenced to a prison term of up to nine years after pleading guilty to two counts of rape of a child with force, two counts of statutory rape of a child, and one count each of sexual conduct for a fee and distribution of a Class B substance to a minor. The man and his two brothers, all from Lowell, were arrested on child rape charges in 2014. These cases involving the 13-year-old girl were part of a larger human trafficking criminal enterprise. The offender and four other individuals were found by investigators and prosecutors to have lured vulnerable women into commercial sexual acts by providing them with a steady stream of drugs and then requiring them to reach a ‘quota for encounters’ each night. Five people were charged in schemes in a crackdown announced by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office in 2016. Investigators found that twice a day or more, traffickers allegedly gave women a drug like fentanyl before dropping them off to engage in sex for a fee and setting a prostitution quota. The marketing of prostitution with the victims included ads for “gangbang parties” and charging people an entrance fee. The money paid by the men was then allegedly funneled to the traffickers, leveraging the victim’s opioid addiction. Grand jury indictments included multiple counts of trafficking in persons for sexual servitude, deriving support from prostitution, and possession with intent to distribute fentanyl. In a separate case in 2018, a Lowell woman who was involved in prostitution in the Lowell/Lawrence area was murdered. A female pimp had lured the 19-year-old victim into prostitution with the promise of money, but later conspired with two men to rob her at a Braintree hotel, in a scheme that resulted in the victim’s death.

To combat prostitution and sex trafficking in the area, local law enforcement agencies have targeted consumer-level demand, which provides the revenue stream driving all prostitution and trafficking. To identify and apprehend local sex buyers, the Lowell Police Department has conducted street-level reverse stings, some in direct response to complaints from businesses and residents, and others connected with sex trafficking investigations. From 2010 to 2013, the Lowell Police Department conducted reverse stings at least four times per year, according to police sources, and sometimes did them on a monthly basis. An operation in August 2012 led to the arrest of seven men. These arrests occurred after the state of Massachusetts passed a new human trafficking law that included provisions allowing for relatively harsh penalties for buying sex: a term of up to 2.5 years in prison, and a minimum fine of $1,000 and a maximum fine of $5,000 (prior prostitution laws allowed for maximums of only one year in prison and fines up to $500). However, news coverage of this group of arrestees report that six of the seven men were allowed to pay fines of $150 covering court costs and then have their charges dismissed (the seventh sex buyer paid a $500 fine). From 2015 through 2018, street-level prostitution stings were less frequent, in favor of investigating sex trafficking, but still occurred more than once per year, and the identities of arrested sex buyers were usually publicized by police. For example, in 2017 there were two street-level operations that involved both sting and reverse sting elements. In February, Lowell police arrested four men and two women on prostitution charges. In October 2017, the second major prostitution sting of the year was conducted near Cupples Square, and police arrested four men and six women on prostitution-related charges. The operation was conducted by the detectives from the Lowell PD Special Investigations Section in response to complaints from residents in the area, the department said in a statement. The four men were charged with soliciting a prostitute, and their identities were included in news reports.

Neighborhood groups have also been involved in city efforts to combat demand. For example, residents in the Lower Highlands area have met with police to discuss how they can collaborate to curtail prostitution, including helping to identify sex buyers.

Key Sources

National Assessment Survey (2012)

Street-Level Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Background on Local Sex Trafficking:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the City:

Background on Local Prostitution:

State Massachusetts
Type City
Population 113994
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