Prostitution, the oldest trade in human history. A victimless crime says some. What’s the big deal, say others. And the list of myths, excuses, and rationalizations goes on. What about child prostitution? Is it really happening? Law enforcement answers with a resounding “Yes”.

Operation Cross Country is part of the Innocence Lost National Initiative that was established in 2003 by the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, in partnership with the Department of Justice and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, to address the growing problem of child prostitution.

To date, the FBI and its task force partners have recovered more than 3,400 children from being exploited. The investigations and subsequent 1,450 convictions have resulted in lengthy sentences, including 14 life terms.

Operation Cross Country VIII took place June 15 through June 20. I was part of that operation in Colorado. Does Colorado have a child prostitution problem? The Cleveland metro area recovered more victims of child prostitution during OCC VIII this year than any other city, with the rescue of 20 children. Denver alone rescued 18 kids, with even more children rescued elsewhere in the State of Colorado.

Human trafficking is an international crime industry estimated to garner over $32 billion a year, second only to drug trafficking. Sex trafficking and child prostitution are a part of that industry. Federal law, 18 U.S.C. section 1591 defines Sex Trafficking of Children or by Force, Fraud, or Coercion. Penalties range from 10 years to life in prison.

But the reality of child sex trafficking is much more than the legal jargon found in criminal statutes. The reality of child prostitution is the death of hope, dreams and the future of children. The physical and psychological abuse of kids that leaves them scarred, broken, and lost cannot be washed away by the harshest of punishments imposed on their traffickers.

To many who read the papers and watched the news, the report of Operation Cross Country was just another story of crime in America. They might have shaken their heads in disgust or felt a hint of sadness, but life goes on. They won’t even think about the issue until next’s year’s story line about another law enforcement operation. For law enforcement, social service agencies, and rescue organizations the reality of child exploitation and sex trafficking is a constant reminder of the plight and horror thousands of kids face every day.

I work on a Human Trafficking Unit. I see and investigate the sex trafficking industry for a living. I interview, console and sometimes cajole victims of sex trafficking to walk away from the life.

Sometimes we win and other times we learn. We never lose. To admit defeat and claiming a loss is not an option. We never lose, but we always learn.

I interviewed a 20 year old victim of sex trafficking during last week’s Operation. She was introduced to the trade at the age of 13, by her best friend who was 19. The lure of fast money and lots of it was the hook that she swallowed. Little did she know that the next 7 years of her life would involve turning tricks and giving 100% of her earnings to her pimp. The lure soon became an anchor around her neck. She was living a death sentence.

This young lady is transported around the country. Her pimp keeps her ID at all times. He tells her when to eat, sleep, shower, and work. He holds the threat of never seeing her 1 and 3 year old children again if she quits or turns on him. She wants out. We offered her a way out. She took it. We put her in a safe house and bought a plane ticket home to her family. A mere 48 hours later she was back in the life.

She could not beat the demons of doubt, dependency, and fear. She called her pimp to come pick her up and she snuck out of the safe house. Did we lose? No, we learned from this experience. We learned what had taken 7 years to bring her to this hopelessness, fear, and conditioning could not be undone on just the hope of a new beginning. We will re-group, get more training, better planning and follow-up and march on. Kid’s lives are depending on us.

But not all cases are just learning experiences. Sometimes we do chalk up a win. Last month we rescued an 18 year old victim of sex trafficking. She had been coerced into the industry several years ago by a pimp in another state. She had been forced to come to Colorado on her circuit of prostitution. I interviewed her at length and based on my training and experience, this young girl wasn’t a voluntary criminal but a true victim. She wanted out.

We did the same process of getting her into a safe house and got her back to her family and 2 year old son. She is still in the recovery program, taking classes, working on her education, and staying out of the life she had once been chained to. It’s not a fairy tale ending, but it is a success story that gives hope to other victims and to those of us who try to rescue them.

If you want to learn more about the reality of Human Trafficking, be it forced labor or sex trafficking, there are many resources out there. There is no one right tool or right answer to a question to determine if a person is a victim of trafficking. Some purported victims are really seasoned criminals and good liars; they know and play the system. There are also truly innocent victims walking our streets, posting on line, and being transported across our country who want to be rescued. It is our responsibility to rescue them. Child prostitution should not just be another story on the news that is forgotten about the next day.

To learn more:

http://www.vera.org

http://www.polarisproject.org

http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov,

http://www.dhs.gov/humantrafficking  

Pat Welsh is the Founder and President of PJ Welsh and Associates, LLC.  Mr. Welsh is a retired Major, West Patrol Operations Division of the Dayton Police Department and currently is a Civilian Criminal Investigator with a Vice and Human Trafficking Unit in Colorado. He was recognized throughout his 26 year career in Patrol, Narcotics, and Investigations by such groups as the FBI, the United States Secret Service, the National Police Athletic League, and the Dayton Police Department. A graduate of the FBINA and Police Executive Leadership College, Mr. Welsh specializes in law enforcement training, keynote speaking and coaching services.  Mr. Welsh is a Certified Speaker, Teacher and Coach with the John C. Maxwell Team. Visit http://www.Warrior-Servant-Leader.com  to learn more about becoming a true Warrior, Servant and Leader or contact Mr. Welsh at [email protected].