By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Federal authorities rescued 47 juveniles and arrested scores of pimps as part of a wide-scale effort to crack down on child prostitution and sex trafficking rings.
The sweep across more than two dozen cities over the weekend marks the latest in a series of efforts by the FBI and Justice Department, working in concert with state and local police departments in task forces dubbed Innocence Lost.
Ten of the children taken into protective custody appeared on a registry operated by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, including youths from Texas, Ohio, Michigan and California, FBI Deputy Director John S. Pistole said at a news conference yesterday.
Using tips and informants, agents patrolled truck stops, Web sites and streets of such local cities as Alexandria, Baltimore and College Park. In one operation in Prince William County, FBI investigators worked with county police to draw customers to hotels, said Melissa S. Morrow, the supervisory special agent in the child exploitation squad at the bureau's Washington field office.
In all, investigators dismantled a dozen organized prostitution rings nationwide and seized firearms, vehicles and drugs as part of the raids. Seventy-three pimps and more than 500 other adults were arrested.
The recovered children ranged in age from 13 to 17, most of them girls who ran away from home or suffered a break with their families.
Ernie Allen, chief executive of the missing children's center, said the problem is "happening on Main Street, USA," in both suburban and rural communities. He likened the rings to "21st century slavery" made easier by technology that allows customers to view Internet profiles of their victims and share images.
Said Pistole: "Sex trafficking of children remains one of the most violent and unconscionable crimes in our country."
Studies financed by the Justice Department estimate that as many as 300,000 children engage in prostitution, although community groups say the figure is more likely in the tens of thousands.
Matthew W. Friedrich, acting assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's criminal division, said the multi-agency collaboration "has given renewed focus to the fight to protect children."