Juvenile prostitution has long been a concern for officers across the country.‚ Children are forced into the sex trade without the ability to simply walk away at a whim.‚ The pimps decide their fate, and it’s usually an ugly one.
It’s a dirty reality, one that the FBI in conjunction with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) plans to stop.‚ Slowly, but surely.
Last week, the three organizations along with local police conducted Operation Cross Country II, a three-day nationwide operation targeting juvenile prostitution.‚ ‚ The operation was conducted as part of Innocence Lost, an initiative created by the FBI, the DOJ and NCMEC in 2003 to address criminal organizations involved in the child sex trade.
Various stings were set up across the country. Agents contacted call girls over the internet and arranged to meet them in a designated hotel room armed with a plethora of surveillance equipment. In the adjoining room, FBI agents monitored the cameras, waiting for money to exchange hands.‚ Once the deal was made, the officers barged in and arrested the “escort.”
The stings resulted in the arrests of 518 prostitutes and 73 pimps.‚ Forty-nine children between the ages of 13 and 17 were recovered from forced sex trade, according to an FBI release.
“Sex trafficking of children remains one of the most violent and unconscionable crimes committed in this country. There are few law enforcement missions more important than protecting our nation’s children,” said FBI Deputy Director John S. Pistole at a press conference.
Girls as young 12-years-old were taken into custody.
Some stings didn’t manage to rescue any children, however FBI authorities say that every prostitute arrested could lead to a larger ring and the discovery of juveniles in the underground sex trade.
Operation Cross Country I was conducted last June, resulting in the arrests of 389 people.‚ Twenty-one children were recovered.
So far, the Innocence Lost initiative has resulted in 265 indictments and 365 convictions on state and federal charges.‚ Thirty-six criminal rings have been broken up.
The FBI has made a large dent in the child sex trade; 577 child victims have been recovered in the program’s five year history, according to the FBI release.
Innocence Lost bears much resemblance to Dateline NBC’s “To Catch a Predator,” an investigative initiative that targets men and women who chat with children on the internet and arrange meetings with the intention of engaging in sexual activity.
The program came under heavy fire after Texas District Attorney Louis Conradt Jr. committed suicide when a SWAT team tried to arrest him while NBC taped.