Tuesday, August 20, 2013

FBI sex trafficking bust: adult prostitution arrests

A recent IOFA blog post focused on the FBI sting that led to the recovery of 105 sexually exploited teenagers. Now we are highlighting those the press may have forgotten.

Operation Cross Country aims to identify and recover child victims of sexual exploitation. Nonetheless, the sting last month undoubtedly encountered many adults involved in prostitution – both willing sex workers as well as coerced trafficking victims – in the process of searching for trafficked children.

What happens to the adults who were found in the same circumstances as the 105 recovered child victims?

FBI Assistant Director Ron Hosko
They’re likely arrested on criminal charges.

In Chicagoland:
Operation Cross Country recovered 2 Commercially Sexually Exploited minors.
Operation Cross Country arrested 96 adults engaged in prostitution.[i]

While many of the detained adults are ostensibly not acting under force or coercion, there may be sex trafficking victims among those arrested.

It comes as no surprise that the sting resulted in the detainment of adults involved in prostitution, even while it was meant to be a crackdown specifically on the commercial sexual exploitation of children. The FBI press release explains: “Initial arrests are often violations of local and state laws relating to prostitution or solicitation. Information gleaned from those arrested frequently uncovers organized efforts to prostitute women and children across many states.”

Are those detained on charges of prostitution being screened as potential human trafficking victims, thus serving the ultimate goal of these stings? Will a sex trafficking conviction emerge for any of the detained adults in the coming months? Or will each one of them end in prostitution charges?

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA 2000) gives legal protection to minors induced to perform commercial sex acts under the premise that those below the age of consent for sex are below the age to give consent for paid sex.[ii] The result of the legislation is that these minors are considered “victims of sex trafficking” rather than “juvenile prostitutes”.

Yet, in these weeks following the child trafficking bust, it is imperative that we remember that adults are not immune to being trafficked, either. TVPA (2000) also protects adult victims of sex trafficking, i.e., those aged 18 or over who are forced, deceived, or coerced into providing commercial sex acts. Traffickers target both children and adults, preying on vulnerabilities extending beyond age, such as immigration status, language barriers, those fleeing other unfavorable situations, and social isolation or marginalization.

IOFA and the rest of the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force advocate for a victim-centered approach to all potential trafficking victims. The Task Force has worked to train law enforcement, legal service providers, and social service providers on identification and treatment protocols to ensure that each potential victim’s rights are fully realized. To that end, the Task Force is further developing best practice trainings and enhancing current human trafficking curriculum. We envision a coordinated criminal justice response in which we can trust that trafficking victims, both minors and adults, are not slipping through the cracks upon contact with law enforcement or other first responders.

While each one of the 105 recovered child victims of sex trafficking from July’s sting deserves to be celebrated, we ought not to forget the potential adult trafficking victims who were encountered in the bust and the difficult road they may have ahead.
-Alexa Schnieders
Program Development Intern


[i] Sanchez, R. “Suburban cops make prostitution arrests in nationwide sex trafficking sweep”. 30 July 2013. The Daily Herald. Accessed online 07 August, 2013.

[ii] "Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act." United States Department of Labor. Web. 07 Aug. 2013. <>.

Other sources consulted:

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