23 teen prostitutes rescued in Seattle area in national crackdown
One-third of the teenage girls rescued by the FBI this past weekend, in its annual national operation to recover juvenile prostitutes and arrest their pimps, were found in the Puget Sound region.
Seattle Times staff reporter
One-third of the teenage girls rescued this past weekend as part of the FBI's annual national operation to recover juvenile prostitutes and arrest their pimps were found in the Puget Sound region.
Sixty-nine children were rescued in 40 cities across the country, according to the FBI, which concluded its three-day "Operation Cross Country V" Sunday morning.
For the third year in a row, the Everett-Seattle-Tacoma area topped the national list of recoveries, where a total of 23 girls were taken off the streets, said Steven Dean, assistant special-agent-in-charge of the FBI's Seattle field office.
Nine pimps were arrested locally, out of 99 nationally, Dean said.
The operation is part of the Innocence Lost National Initiative, which was formed in 2003 to address the growing problem of children being forced into prostitution.
"Some of them are very young — 14, 15 years old," Dean said of the prostitutes found over the weekend. Though he declined to divulge where the girls were taken, he said, "they're not on the streets and they're not with the pimps."
In King County, 16 juvenile prostitutes were recovered and seven pimps were arrested during this year's operation, most of them in Seattle, said Lt. Eric Sano of the Seattle Police Department. Twenty-five adult prostitutes were also arrested here, he said.
Two pimps were arrested and seven more girls were rescued in Pierce and Snohomish counties, Dean said.
In contrast, police in San Francisco arrested 57 adult prostitutes and recovered six juveniles, Sano said.
It's not that Seattle has a greater concentration of juvenile prostitutes than say, Las Vegas or Los Angeles, Sano said. Instead, he pointed out that the department's vice and high-risk victims unit has long focused its attention on children forced into the sex trade and victims of foreign trafficking.
At any given time, there are 300 to 500 juvenile prostitutes — most of them girls ages 11 to 17 — in King County, mostly in Seattle and cities to the south, according to a 2008 report on juvenile prostitution commissioned by the city.
"It's not that we have a bigger problem, but we know how to do this so well," Sano said. "We are good at spotting the juveniles, which is why we get the higher numbers."
Seattle detectives — some posing as johns looking to solicit sex — went to the "track" on Aurora Avenue, where girls and women walk the streets, but also used the Internet to find juvenile victims, Sano said.
"We use whatever resources, whatever methods we can to recover these young women," he said. "Our goal is to recover as many kids as we can, get them to a safe place and offer them" a host of services.
Once a juvenile prostitute was identified and taken into custody, she was taken to "our command center" at an undisclosed location in the city, Sano said. There, forensic nurses, mental-health professionals, victim advocates and other social-service providers were on hand to get girls the counseling and other help they need to begin recovering from the trauma of being sexually exploited, he said.
It's also not known how many of the juvenile prostitutes found in the three-county area were local girls or those brought to the area from other states, Dean said.
"Traditionally, it's a combination of both," he said, pointing out that Seattle is just one city on a national circuit in which pimps move girls from city to city.
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