The FBI and other law enforcement agencies arrested 14 people in Washington State suspected in connection with "commercially exploiting children and/or adults and related crimes" over the weekend.
This year’s Operation Cross Country—the largest to date—involved 55 FBI field offices and 74 FBI-led Child Exploitation Task Forces throughout the country composed of more than 400 law enforcement agencies. Hundreds of law enforcement officials took part in sting operations in hotels, casinos, truck stops, and other areas frequented by pimps, prostitutes, and their customers. The youngest recovered U.S. victim was 13 years old.
All of the recovered U.S. minors were offered services by victim specialists who are part of the FBI’s Office for Victim Assistance. More than 100 victim specialists provided on-scene services that included crisis intervention as well as resources for basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter, and medical attention.
Among the 82 juveniles recovered in the U.S. were two sisters in Milwaukee, ages 16 and 17, who told authorities that their mother was their pimp. The girls said their mother also rented out their brother’s room to a man who was a registered sex offender.
It goes without saying that no one, including sex worker advocates, wants minors (or anyone) to be abused in the sex trade. It's worth noting, though, that the world of sex work is a lot bigger—and a lot more complex—than projects like the FBI's "Innocence Lost" initiative depict.
Local sex workers and international organizations like Amnesty International say that decriminalizing sex work, and allowing sex workers to exercise their labor rights, would help prevent exploitation, rape, and other abuses, including abuses of minors. Law enforcement agencies, on the other hand, claim that periodic crackdowns on the sex trade and shutting down websites that sex workers use to vet clients will protect sex workers and minors from being exploited. One side is clearly being heard in the formal halls of power. The other, not so much.