Editorial: The scourge of sex trafficking


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Sex trafficking is often a problem associated with dark corners of the developing world, but the unfortunate truth is that the trafficking of minors is an American problem as well.

In fact, the FBI just declared on Monday that child prostitution in the United States is a “persistent threat.” This statement came following a major sweep during which the FBI rescued 105 young people and arrested 150 alleged pimps charged with perpetrating the children’s commercial sexual exploitation in 76 cities.

The operation was carried out as part of the FBI’s decade-long Innocence Lost National Initiative. This past weekend’s rescues and arrests were the largest such enforcement action to date.

Although no pimps were arrested in Iowa and no children were freed, 33 alleged customers were arrested in Council Bluffs and in Lincoln, Neb., and Omaha.

The arrests came after the FBI had been monitoring Backpage.com, along with other websites that served as prominent online areas for the sale of sex.

The young people rescued in the roundup, which was called Operation Cross-Country, were almost all girls and ranged in age from 13 to 17. Most were rescued in San Francisco, Detroit, Milwaukee, Denver, and New Orleans.

The recent bust serves to prove that this deplorable, modern-day form of slavery happens quite a bit more and quite a bit closer to home than many people would like to believe.

According to the U.S, State Department, roughly 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year. Eighty percent of those trafficked are women and girls, mostly for sexual exploitation, and the problem is only getting worse.

The Justice Department has estimated that almost 450,000 children run away from home each year and that one-third of teens living on the street will be lured toward prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home.

Furthermore, trafficking for sexual exploitation is one of the fastest growing organized crimes, generating nearly $28 billion each year.

Ignoring the problem or pretending that sex trafficking does not exist will do nothing to remedy the issue that is plaguing our nation and the rest of the world.

Sex trafficking has devastating effects on its victims, especially minors. The consequences include long-lasting physical and psychological trauma, disease — including HIV/AIDS — drug addiction, unwanted pregnancy, malnutrition, social ostracism, and even death.

The recent prostitution sting is a grave reminder of the depravity that lurks at the edges of society.
Fortunately, in recent years, the United States has stepped up to try to tackle the horrifying practice of sex trafficking.

For the past 10 years, the FBI has been battling the problem in partnership with a private group, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Since its launch in June 2003, the Innocence Lost National Initiative has resulted in the development of 66 dedicated task forces and working groups throughout the United States involving federal, state, and local law-enforcement agencies working together with U.S. Attorney’s Offices.

The initiative has also led to the rescue of more than 2,700 children and the successful convictions of more than 1,300 pimps, madams, and their accomplices who exploit children through prostitution. Ten pimps have even been sentenced to life imprisonment, and more than $3.1 million have been seized in assets.

Part of the problem also stems from laws on human trafficking and child sex trafficking, which are sometimes seriously limited and flawed.

However, as with any problem, sex trafficking is certainly cannot be tackled overnight, and it cannot be fought without increased attention. It is imperative that we continue to raise awareness about this issue and to work toward ending this modern form of slavery.

As President Obama said in 2012, “[Trafficking] ought to concern every person, because it’s a debasement of our common humanity.”

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