Mary Ann O’Malloy: A Star of Our Public Education and Awareness Committee
I first met Mary Ann O’Malloy when I attended my first Public Education and Awareness Committee meeting. She was dressed in a bright, colorful dress and awesome boots. She is sassy and not afraid to take charge. O’Malloy is passionate and compassionate towards the people she works with. Mary Ann O’Malloy is the current chair of the Public Education and Awareness Committee. O’Malloy is the Clinical Director at First Step Home, a residential and outpatient treatment program dedicated to women-centered care for women experiencing addiction and all of the related mental health and trauma-related issues that come with addiction. She joined the coalition when she saw a connection between drug use and sex trafficking. We’re highlighting her and her work on the blog because of her dedication in fighting sex trafficking and helping those who have experienced it.
Q: Can you give us an overview of your work at First Step Home?
A: I am the Clinical Director at First Step Home. I’ve been here about 3 years. I run the Sex Trafficking groups and CHANGE group with my colleague, Nicole Litvak.
Q: How did you learn about the issue of human trafficking? What makes you passionate about this issue?
A: I became aware of the intersection of drug use and sex trafficking when I came to FSH. So many women were falling back into old lifestyle behaviors, returning to use or sex work, and one seemed to precipitate the other. My passion comes from wanting to see these women able to return to society, or maybe enter it for the first time. So many of them have been addicted and trafficked since a young age. They may have no education or job skills. How do we take what they know and turn it into something appropriately marketable? Would they be great at customer service, hostessing at a restaurant, or as a care giver? They have unique skills. They can assess a situation in seconds for safety, risk, and potential profit. They can survive on the street. They have survived incredible violence and humiliation. How can we take these qualities and help them stay sober?
Q: What is the connection between human trafficking and addiction? How did you realize that there was a connection between human trafficking and addiction?
A: What I realized watching women relapse, was the intersection of these issues. Women would relapse on drugs, have no money to pay for them, and return to commercial sex work. Or they would falsely believe they could return to sex work, or be pressured back into it, and think they would not use again. Eventually they would. They would return to treatment even more demoralized and ashamed. Then we started addressing the issue before relapse. How has being trafficked effected their self-esteem, self-worth, and use? Did they trade sex for drugs, a place to stay, money, or food? They are worth more than this.
Q: What myths would you like to correct about this issue, about the intersections of drug addiction and trafficking?
A: I don’t know a woman who used street drugs and was not “trafficked.” The pimp is the dope boy. There is no separation. This is ONE issue about the empowerment of women (and children). When women feel safe, have job opportunities, and do not experience abuse and violence, they won’t start using in the first place. Our women use due to trauma. It could be sexual abuse, having been trafficked, physical abuse, or any number of traumas. They will do anything to get their drugs, including sex work. It is a heart breaking cycle. When we break the cycle of use, and work on trauma, they are able to see that they were indeed trafficked by husbands, boyfriends, family members, or the dope boy, and that they can break that cycle, too.
Q: What do you wish people knew about this issue?
A: I wish people understood that this is NOT a choice, that these women do not seek out sex work as an “easy paycheck,” and that it is happening all around us, not just on the corner. I’ve had women who have engaged in “escorting” being “paid” hundreds of dollars (which they never saw), and women who “tricked” for the next “fix.” I’ve had women tell me about their men who would not pay the light bill or buy food for the kids unless they engaged in sex acts with the men, or their associates. It is so sad.
Q: What is something a person could do to support a person in this situation?
A: The first thing someone could do is listen. Non-judgmentally. Don’t lecture or come at her with platitudes. Offer support. Know available resources: the hotline number, victim services, and detox. Ask her if she has a safe place to go. If not, encourage her to start calling resources. Make the call with her. It may save her life.
Author: Bhumika Patel
March 24, 2015