Woburn is a small city of approximately 41,000 residents, located just north of Boston in Middlesex County, Massachusetts. In the time of the early 2010s, residents and local law enforcement agencies reported a spike in internet-based prostitution in the area transacted in local hotels and residences. Sex trafficking is known to occur in the city and to involve links to numerous other cities and states. For example, in May, 2013 a large-scale investigation found a multi-state human trafficking organization operating in Woburn, which forced women to engage in prostitution in many cities throughout Massachusetts. Investigators believe the women were bused in from multiple locations including New York, and were kept in “deplorable conditions, often five to a single room with few mattresses on the floor, and then they were told to work seven days a week in various locations,” according to Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. Two individuals were arrested in Woburn for forcing several women to perform commercial sex with an average of 10 clients a day at each location, and then keeping nearly all of the money. Massachusetts locations allegedly involved in the operation include:
- Bedford (Bedford Asian Bodywork a/k/a Bedford Wellness Center)
- Billerica (Shrine Spa a/k/a Billerica Bodywork a/k/a Boston Chinese Club
- Medford (Mystic Health Center)
- Reading (Body Wellness Center)
- Wilmington (Body Language)
- Woburn (Asian Bodywork a/k/a Woburn Wellness Bodywork)
In January 2008, the Woburn Police Department (WPD) discussed the increase in a controversial interview with the Boston Globe, wherein city detectives reported that “they [didn’t] arrest the men but instead interviewed them to gain probable cause to arrest and charge the suspected prostitute. [Sex buyers could be] named in incident reports and [potentially] summoned to appear later as witnesses or to face charges.” When asked why they opted to exclusively target prostituted women over sex buyers, officers noted that “choosing not to arrest the ‘johns’ [made the men] more likely to cooperate and spared them added shame.” Several media outlets and advocacy groups quickly responded to the article, noting the inequity and demanding that Woburn men be held equally accountable for engaging in commercial sex.
The city appeared to have changed its position in late March 2013, when the WPD and Southern Middlesex Regional Drug Task Force conducted a web-based sting targeting sex buyers. Officers posted decoy advertisements to websites known for prostitution activity; as men responded to the listings, a female contact posed as a prostituted woman and arranged to meet the men at a local hotel. Four sex buyers were arrested as a result. All had their names, ages, and addresses publicized by the media. In March 2014, a similar reverse sting resulted in the arrest of two sex buyers.