Nicole Bell’s phone has been ringing off the hook since the story broke that New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was charged with two counts of soliciting prostitution at a day spa in Florida.

The Worcester woman is a survivor of sex trafficking and executive director of Living in Freedom Together, a nonprofit resource and advocacy center for people who have been sexually exploited.

She said that although the Florida investigation involved Asian immigrant women being virtually imprisoned in sexual servitude at spas, the underlying issue is no different from prostitution on the streets of the city.

“It’s about the exploitation,” Bell said. “It’s not about trafficking. It’s prostitution. It’s the act of being bought and sold. Trafficking is just the entry point.”

Bell hopes the spotlight will focus not just on high-profile men caught buying sex, but more on the plight of the victims and what can be done to help them safely exit “the life.”

She said people have a Hollywood “Pretty Woman” fantasy that prostitution is a victimless crime. In her experience, nothing could be further from the truth.

Bell spent 10 years on the streets, where she survived sexual violence as she was prostituted. She says she did it to get drugs and find a place to sleep.

“I didn’t believe that I had any other worth in the world,” she said.

Human traffickers and men who buy sex are exploiting victims’ vulnerabilities, whether it be immigration status, being in a foreign culture, addiction, homelessness or looking for love.

“It may not be chains and bars,” Bell said. “It’s more like fear, disorientation, all the things that tie people to their exploiter.”

The violence that women go through at the hands of sex buyers and traffickers is horrific, she said. Women are treated as throwaways.

Far too often, the consequences are deadly. Bell said five local women were lost in the past month.

Quoting Autumn Burris, an advocate and founder of Survivors for Solutions, Bell said that although death certificates might list the cause of death as overdose, “It should read ‘death by prostitution.’ ”

The widespread availability of pornography, which Bell called “prostitution on camera,” contributes to the ongoing exploitation of vulnerable individuals. “Kids are watching this and thinking it’s normal,” she said.

And “john boards,” websites where sex buyers can find prostituted individuals and rate their experience like a Yelp review of a restaurant meal, further dehumanize the victims.

“For us,” she said, “we need to focus on the women and helping them exit.”

Bell works with the Worcester Police Department and Spectrum Health Systems’ “john school,” which aims to hold men who are caught buying sex accountable for the toll that prostitution takes. The program, held periodically at police headquarters, brings in community residents, business owners, a public health nurse and survivors who talk about what it’s like to be treated as a commodity or to live or work in a neighborhood where such activity goes on.

LIFT, with a small but growing staff including outreach workers and soon, a recovery coach and program manager, offers commercially exploited individuals a drop-in center, a safe haven housed at a city church, where they can get a cup of coffee, rest on a couch and pick up donated clothes and personal items.

The overdose-reversing drug Narcan is available at the center and health workers from Community Healthlink’s Homeless Outreach and Advocacy Project offer medical services.

In June, LIFT plans to open Jana’s Place, a 15-bed residential program for women escaping from commercial sexual exploitation to receive stable housing, support services and treatment for substance use disorders. 

Bell wonders about the prostituted women in the Orchids of Asia Day Spa, the site of the highly publicized Florida sting. Were they offered help during the investigation? Were they given a way out?

“I think it’s important to not make the story Robert Kraft,” she said. “It’s people being exploited and how we can assist them.”