On Monday October 17, 2016 the FBI shared the story of an anonymous women who got into prostitution when she was just 17 years old. She was desperate to make it in the modeling industry, not realizing that she was actually an upscale call girl. They used this story as an introduction to their announcement of Operation Cross Country X. This FBI sting recovered 82 underage victims of prostitution, resulting in the arrests of 239 pimps between October 13th and 16th. FBI Director James Comey said “Operation Cross Country aims to shine a light into the darkest corners of our society that seeks to prey on the most vulnerable of our population.” The available data on sex trafficking in the United States doesn’t fully capture the breadth of the problem because many of the victims may be fearful of speaking out or of being charged with crimes or feel threatened by their captors who, in some cases, are members of their family.
Sex trafficking is overlooked in the U.S. because many see it as a more common occurrence in developing countries only. Children enter the criminal justice system for offenses such as “running away, truancy, drugs, alcohol, and petty theft,” but many officials and welfare workers fail to notice that “all of those are traumatic side effects to being a trafficked victim.” Children often aren’t asked about their motives to commit such crimes. Nobody ever identifies them as a trafficking victim. Not even the child themselves.
82 percent of the sex trafficking victims identified between 2008 and 2010 were were U.S. citizens. According to the FBI, human sex trafficking is the “fastest-growing business of organized crime” and an estimated some 293,000 American youths are at risk of becoming victims. The patchwork of laws and resources available in different cities and states can cause some young victims to be penalized by the law and/or charged with the crime that is perpetrated against them.