Across the country, newly formed task forces made up of local, state and federal law enforcement officers are starting to view what was once seen as run-of-the-mill prostitution as possible instances of sex trafficking. With support and funding from the FBI and the Justice Department, agencies are starting to work together to identify and rescue sex trafficking victims and arrest their pimps.
The new approach is being hailed by victims of trafficking and their advocates as a much-needed paradigm shift — and, the FBI says, is reaping results. Since 2008, task forces have recovered more than 2,700 sexually trafficked children and convicted more than 1,350 pimps. The volume of cases is exposing a problem that has long been hidden in plain sight: Child prostitution, or sex trafficking of minors, happens in every state in the country, in poor and rich communities alike. And more often than not, victims are children and are American-born.
“This can happen in any town,” says Ron Hosko, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “We’ve seen it happen in very affluent areas of the country. Each of our field offices has reported these crimes, so we think that it’s everywhere.”
Since 2008, the FBI and Department of Justice have pumped resources into training law enforcement officers around the country on what to look for, how to approach potential victims, and how to connect them with services like housing, job training and counseling. They have also made it a priority to gather evidence needed to prosecute their pimps.
Hosko says that mindset is still the biggest ongoing obstacle for federal efforts to recast child prostitution cases. “If a particular local law enforcement officer sees what they perceive as purely a prostitution issue, and they don’t dig deeper or take it to the next level, or don’t collaborate with someone who is interested in taking it to the next level, it is a revolving door,” he says.
Learn more at Jessica Pupovac’s NPR article: Feds Recast Child Prostitutes As Victims, Not Criminals.