WASHINGTON – Three men the FBI is calling “pimps” are under arrest in Maryland as part of an anti-sex trafficking sting.
While no juveniles were recovered from D.C., Maryland or Virginia during Operation Cross Country, one agency says juvenile prostitution is a problem in the Washington area.
“It is absolutely happening here,” says Staca Shehan, director of the case analysis division for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
“One of the cities involved in Operation Cross Country is Washington, D.C., and the Northern Virginia area. That doesn’t mean there was a bigger problem here than elsewhere, but it means the problem exists here,” she says.
The Polaris Project, which operates the National Human Trafficking Resource Center crisis hotline, says the number of D.C. calls into the hotline has increased slightly from 376 calls in 2011 to 390 calls in 2012. The Department of Health and Human Services helps fund the hotline for human trafficking.
The hotline has received more than 1,900 calls from within the District of Columbia since 2007.
The number of calls the hotline has received are growing, but that increase can also be attributed to more people finding out about the hotline, says Brandon Bouchard with the Polaris Project.
As part of Operation Cross Country, the FBI says it has rescued 105 children who were forced into prostitution in the United States. Authorities also arrested 150 people described as pimps and others in a series of raids in 76 American cities.
The three-day FBI campaign was the largest of its type. The agency teamed up with local partners including the District of Columbia, Prince William County, Loudoun County and Fairfax County.
Though the net numbers out of the D.C. area were small, FBI special agent Tim A. Gallagher says the sting will help local agencies catch more child sex traffickers.
“Although there were no minors recovered at that point, we developed a lot of intelligence with the networks used, the individuals involved that could lead to us rescuing underage victims the next time we go out,” Gallagher tells WTOP.
Over the past year in D.C. and Virginia, the FBI has recovered 13 victims, arrested four pimps and gang members and initiated 11 new cases involved in the prostitution of minors, Gallagher says.
One high-profile case included the conviction of two people from Atlanta who had trafficked 30 women, seven of them who were underage, Gallagher says.
One in eight endangered runaways reported in 2012 were likely sex trafficking victims, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
The FBI video featuring a former teen prostitute:
This story has been clarified to note that the Polaris Project operates the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, which is a crisis hotline funded in part by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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