Caught in the FBI's net

A nationwide hunt for sexually exploited children wound up catching a few youth — and a lot more adult sex workers

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"One of the officers was very adamant about telling me that he would never pay me that much for my services."

yael@sfbg.com

The mission: Rescuing sexually exploited children. Who can argue with that?

From June 20 through June 23, the FBI and local police departments and district attorney's offices throughout the United States were engaged in Operation Cross Country, three days of stings targeting pimps for arrest.

According to the FBI, the mission was successful. "Nationwide, 79 children were rescued and 104 pimps were arrested for various state and local charges," a press statement released the following week reads.

In the Bay Area, the operation resulted in "the recovery of six children, who were being victimized through prostitution, and the arrest of seven individuals, commonly referred to as pimps."

Also caught up in the Bay Area sweep: 61 adult prostitutes — ten consensual sex workers for every underage victim.

Operation Cross Country was part of an ongoing effort called the Innocence Lost National Initiative, which the FBI describes as beginning in the Bay Area in 2005 with the Bay Area Innocence Lost Working Group. According to FBI spokesperson Julianne Sohn, this June's crackdown was the sixth Operation Cross Country in the past several years.

"The FBI and our partners are looking for those who are exploiting minors for purposes of prostitution," Sohn told the Guardian. "But in the process of doing this we also pick up pimps exploiting adults, and adult prostitutes along the way."

"What we're looking at are people who traffic children for prostitution and solicitation," she said. But the pimping arrests under Operation Cross Country don't necessarily have anything to do with children. "Those are just pimps, generally speaking," said Sohn.

As Caitlin Manning, a sex workers rights advocate, put it, "This emotionally laden appeal to save children who are forced into sexual slavery is being used to further the criminalization of all sex work, these lines are being blurred. There are always a large number of consensual sex workers involved in these stings."

The Guardian caught up with one such consensual sex worker swept up in Operation Cross Country. "Maya," 22, an escort in Richmond, was targeted because officers believed she looked under 18 in her ads. After her entrapment, arrest and interrogation, she convinced them she was older. She says that sex trafficking is a terrible problem, but criminalizing working people like her is no solution.

Bay Guardian: Tell me about the arrest.

Maya: I got a phone call. All he said to me was that he was nervous and had never done this before, and that he was looking for somebody to party with. So I never said anything sexual, and he didn't either. There was absolutely no premise.

So I went to the hotel room. I walked in the door and I said, I'm glad that I found the right room. I put my bag down. I turned to the side and there was another man standing there, and my immediate thought was that I was going to get taken advantage of by another person. But then- I can't even, I don't know how many officers it was. Some came out of the bathroom, and they said Richmond PD, you're under arrest, put your hands behind your back.

They had me in handcuffs, they questioned me for a while. I was in custody for about six hours. So I guess the way that it works with that is, the phone call is initiation and showing up to the hotel room is an act in furtherance. Entrapment is legal for that in California.

BG: What was the questioning like?

M: You know, I've been through a lot of things in my life. Family tragedies. Just like a lot of people. But that was definitely hands down, probably top five most traumatic events in my life. I've never felt so degraded. They were sitting there asking me, why do you have condoms in your bag? I had a vibrator, I had lube, and I had condoms with me.

Comments

I want to thank you for providing a more accurate view of what is going on. Those of us who have been working in the Sex industry for most of our lives, have seen this happen every election year. Normally, we are not a priority, but then there comes that political pressure during election time. I am sure in this economy it wouldn't fly for them to advertise a prostitution sting, but a sex trafficking sting, carries more brownie points with it. And, it is an easy way to make headlines with little risk...One girl and 6 armed agents... You get the picture!

However, I am the first to say, that sex trafficking is a problem, unfortunately all of these attempts will really yield nothing. What effectively happens us consenting adults who are are tracked down go away, as we should...You get no help from us and we are the ones who see this daily. Law enforcement looses us, and to date, they have been ineffective in the war.... The girls, end up with a record, and no help and are dumped back into the system and recycled. The real pimps...well, we've all encountered those, and they are not even touched, as they would never be in that position. And the world of sex trafficking goes on unimpeded.

Ask us who've been there... those of us on the inside know, law enforcement simply playing on the outskirts of our world....

Posted by Kristen DiAngelo on Jul. 11, 2012 @ 2:19 pm

what a scam; law enforcement spending very limited time and resources on busting adults who consentually exchange money for sex. Fire them all and hire people who are able and willing to enforce the existing laws against rape, kidnapping and prosecuting priest who molest under age children!!!!!!!!

utterly disgusting!!!!!!

Posted by Guest on Jul. 21, 2012 @ 2:08 pm

Kristen DiAngelo is so right. Sex trafficking of children, immigrants or anyone is a crime that needs to be stamped out. However society helps foster it by making sex work illegal. If it were legalized and regulated them sex workers could and would help stamp it out. As it is now they can't and won't as they are persecuted and prosecuted. They are outside the law and are at risk of rape (yes it happens) , robbery, assault and murder. They have no recourse to 911 or the authorities.
If you really want to stamp out trafficking, rather than outlaw it why not legalize and regulate it?
You can get a better idea of a sex worker's life by watching a documentary on the business "American Courtesans". This is a film about escorts' lives made by an escort. The escorts talk as do their families about everything. Many are in it voluntarily and have families and pay taxes. It has been shown in many film festivals including the Women’s International Film Festival and The ECU and won awards.
’American Courtesans’ became available on-demand this Friday in over 100 million homes across the US and Canada -- including on some of the largest cable systems in the country - Comcast, Time Warner, Cox, Brighthouse and iTunes (in 6 different countries - the US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland), just to name a few. It is also available on DVD and BluRay on www.americancourtesans.com, amazon, and ebay.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 14, 2013 @ 4:26 am

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