THE annual national law-enforcement sweep targeting child sex-trafficking has yielded another grim harvest of lives threatened by sexual exploitation.
Over three days in 76 U.S. cities, 105 children ranging in age from 13 to 17 were rescued. More than 150 pimps were arrested. The annual prostitution stings are part of Operation Cross Country, an effort under the FBI’s Innocence Lost National Initiative.
Locally, three girls were rescued and nine adults arrested on suspicion of child abuse and other crimes.
These victories add up. According to the FBI, 2,700 children have been rescued in these sweeps since 2003. Some 1,350 people have been convicted, including 10 sentenced to life in prison. More than $3.1 million in assets has been seized — proof that crime does not pay for long.
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The U.S. Department of Justice estimates 450,000 children run away from home each year. One-third are likely to be lured into prostitution within the first 48 hours.
The sweeps offer welcome acknowledgment by the justice system that young prostitutes are not criminals, but rather victims beaten, drugged and otherwise coerced by pimps buying and trading them for sex.
They are children who cannot escape. They must be rescued.
Congress should codify this approach by passing a bill requiring state law enforcement and foster-care and child-welfare programs to treat children involved in sex trafficking as victims of abuse and neglect in need of protection and services.
Washington state is already there. Prosecutors here are required to send court cases of alleged teen prostitution to the Department of Social and Human Services for support services if it is the juvenile’s first offense.
Commendable efforts by law-enforcement agencies deserve public recognition and support.