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Before her regular speeches to men who have been arrested for soliciting sex with prostitutes, Nikki Bell usually prints out some talking points. But her printer was acting up, and, besides, she had just spent the previous 24 hours taking in the blizzard of coverage after New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft had been accused of soliciting sex at a downmarket massage parlor in Florida.
She spoke as someone who was pushed into prostitution as a teen, forced to stay in it for a decade to feed a drug addiction, and who now helps women trapped, as she was, in that inherently violent cycle. To treat women who worked at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa, where Kraft was allegedly a customer, as somehow a special case in the world of paid sex is to lean on a distinction without a difference, she says.
She said the vast majority were sexually assaulted as children and meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder.
On Saturday, Bell directly referenced the Kraft situation as she spoke to a group of men who cut across every demographic. It is unwanted sex. Bell said that men sometimes cry after her talks. But on Saturday, no one cried, and one guy had the effrontery to smirk at her. The criminal justice system is typically disposed to treat prostitutes as criminals and their customers as misguided consumers. Women go to jail; men go to class. Two years ago, state Representative Kay Khan filed a bill to treat prostitutes less as criminals and more as victims , to provide services instead of putting them behind bars, where they are often recruited by pimps and traffickers who groom them with letters and online deposits to their prison accounts.
The bill was sent for study. This session, a slightly different version of the bill will be considered. Nikki Bell was able to save herself because some people believed in her and mostly because she believed in herself. But she has no patience for people who make excuses for men who pay for sex while they have no, little, or only conditional regard for those on the other end of the transaction.