By ISABEL ESTERMAN
OCT. 28 –Thirteen juveniles have been taken into custody in the Bay Area and 123 adults have been arrested as part of Operation Cross Country II, a nationwide effort to combat the sex trafficking of children, law enforcement officials announced this morning.
Bay Area operations are responsible for almost 25 percent the juveniles apprehended, and a fifth of nearly 650 arrests nationwide, said FBI spokesman Joe Schadler. “A bulk of the national work was done in this area,” he said.
Across the country, scores of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies cooperated to arrest 642 people and take 47 children into custody between Wednesday and Monday. Officials credit the high rate of arrests in the Bay Area to ongoing investigative work by local agencies and information gleaned from past Oakland Police Department initiatives like “Operation Strikeout,” a 2007 prostitution sting operation that netted 113 arrests.
“The problem of child exploitation really hits home here on the streets of Oakland,” said Oakland Police Department Assistant Chief Howard Jordan. “This is a very big problem, one of our daily concerns.” The juveniles taken into custody in this operation will be enrolled in rehabilitation programs run by groups like the Sexually Exploited Minors Network, he said. “These kids aren’t treated as suspects, more as victims.”
The youngest girl apprehended in the investigation was 13 years old, said FBI Special Agent Vida Bottom. “Every day, these girls work for little more than a meal and a roof over their heads,” she said. And when a girl so young is involved in prostitution, it’s almost always because of violence, coercion, abduction or addiction, Bottom said.
“They have no hope of getting out of there unless located by local law enforcement,” said San Francisco Police Department Captain Albert Pardini.
“We cannot give these girls back their childhoods,” said Bottom. Officials can only hope, she said, to give them a chance at a brighter future.
“The problem of child exploitation really hits home here on the streets of Oakland,” said Assistant Chief Howard Jordan of the Oakland Police Department. The juveniles taken into custody in this operation will be enrolled in rehabilitation programs run by groups like the Sexually Exploited Minors Network, Jordan said. “These kids aren’t treated as suspects, more as victims.”
Joseph Russoniello, US Attorney for Northern California, links high rates of prostitution in the Bay Area to local tolerance of the sex trade. “There always seems to be this attitude that this is not a big deal,” he said. According to Russoniello, efforts like this show that prostitution is not a victimless crime. “There are people out there who are aggressively attempting to recruit girls as young as 12 or 13 for prostitution,” he said. The problem, he said, crosses all racial and ethnic lines. “It’s really the enslavement of a whole class of our most vulnerable citizens.”
Local agencies arrested 102 adults for prostitution, but only 15 for pimping and pandering. However, law enforcement agencies hope to use testimony from those recently taken into custody to build federal cases against the people responsible for procuring child prostitutes, Russoniello said.