“US authorities have rescued nearly 50 child prostitutes – some as young as 13 – in a nationwide operation against the trafficking of children for sex.”

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The BBC News reports:

More than 570 suspects were arrested during the action, which took place over three nights.

FBI agents and local police forces were involved in the operations which spanned some 29 cities.

Officials say a 16-year-old girl who recruits children as prostitutes is being sought as a priority.

Special Agent Melissa Morrow, of Washington’s FBI, said adult prostitutes who were among those arrested tipped authorities off about the girl.

“She is currently 16 and started when she was 13,” Agent Morrow said.

“Now she is out there recruiting other juveniles as well,” she said, adding that finding her was “at the top of our list”, the Associated Press news agency reported. …

The 13 to 17 year olds are recognized to be victims, but the “adult prostitutes,” anybody 18 years old or over, are arrested as criminals, rather than rescued, even though many probably got drawn into prostitution at very young ages too. That’s shameful and it could have been stopped. The LA Times notes:

… Over a three-night initiative called Operation Cross Country, federal agents working with local law enforcement also arrested more than 571 suspects on a variety of federal and state prostitution-related charges, the bureau said.

The teenage prostitutes found in the investigation ranged in age from 13 to 17.

“We may not be able to return their innocence but we can remove them from this cycle of abuse and violence,” said FBI Director Robert Mueller.

Meanwhile, in Memphis, Tenn., a man pleaded guilty Monday to federal civil rights charges for sex trafficking in minors. Leonard Fox faces at least 10 years in prison after admitting that he arranged for underaged girls to engage in sex for money.

“To sexually prey upon young girls in this manner for financial gain is particularly damaging to the victims and an affront to the society in which we live,” said Loretta King, acting head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

Historically, federal authorities rarely play a role in anti-prostitution crackdowns, but the FBI is becoming more involved as it tries to rescue children caught up in the business.

“The goal is to recover kids. We consider them the child victims of prostitution,” said FBI Deputy Assistant Director Daniel Roberts.

“Unfortunately, the vast majority of these kids are what they term ‘throwaway kids,’ with no family support, no friends. They’re kids that nobody wants, they’re loners. Many are runaways,” Roberts said.

Most of the children are put into the custody of local child protection agencies.

Agents in cities from Miami to Chicago to Anchorage, Alaska took part in the operation. …

… The federal effort is also designed to hit pimps with much tougher prison sentences than they would likely get in state criminal courts.

Government prosecutors look to bring racketeering charges or conspiracy charges that can result in decades of jail time.

“Some of these networks of pimps and their organizations are very sophisticated, they’re interstate,” said Roberts, requiring wiretaps and undercover sting operations to bring charges.

The weekend’s roundup marked the third such Operation Cross Country, and is part of a broader federal program launched in 2003 to crack down on the sexual exploitation of children.

–Ann Bartow

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