What happens to children rescued in sex sweep?

July 30, 2013 7:57:09 PM PDT
In what the FBI calls the biggest operation of its kind, 150 people were arrested in 76 cities in a three-day child sex trafficking sweep known as Operation Cross Country. More than 100 children were rescued in the nationwide sweep, but now the question is -- what happens to them?

The first thing is to get these children into safe places. Then provide them a safety net. ABC7 News was there as three juveniles were taken into custody at a Bay Area hotel where the FBI was conducting part of the sting operation. Police decoys had set up the dates from escort services advertising on the Internet.

Police caught "Jenny," 17, on a hidden camera, soliciting a police decoy for sex. Another girl is only 13. Police say she was also selling her body for sex. And one 15-year-old was so scared, she began crying. All were taken into protective custody because they are considered victims of human trafficking.

The next steps will be the most important and difficult phase of their young lives -- breaking the cycle of prostitution.

"They're runaways; they may come from group homes, so they're targeted based on their vulnerability," FBI special agent in charge David Johnson said.

Many don't even realize they're being exploited. They think life with their pimps may be better than what they had before. But social workers say it almost always includes violence and addiction.

Nancy O'Malley is the Alameda County District Attorney. She's developed an extensive safety net program for underage prostitutes. It includes a wide range of social services which starts after they are taken into custody.

"They start to tell us some horrific stories about themselves being sexually abused and sodomized and beaten by the exploiters just to keep them into compliance," O'Malley said.

During the hotel sting, social workers from Bay Area Women Against Rape, one of the oldest advocates in the Bay Area for sexually exploited minors, was there to help them immediately.

"We let them know we're not part of law enforcement; we're here to be with them every step of the way through this process," BAWAR Program Coordinator Patrick Mims said.

One hundred fifty girls have gone through that program. O'Malley says there is a 90 percent graduation rate. In fact, some are now even enrolled in junior colleges.


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