Thursday, October 30, 2008

6 Local Kids Rescued From Human Trafficking Operation


Tampa Bay Online ( October 28, 2008

Undercover Operation Video

TAMPA - One became a prostitute at age 12.

All six Tampa Bay teens rescued in a law enforcement operation last week worked prostitution hotspots such as Nebraska Avenue or were pimped on the Internet.

The operation to combat trafficking of children for sex led to the rescue of five Tampa teens and one from St. Petersburg, according to the FBI. The six were 16 or 17 years old, FBI Tampa spokesman Dave Couvertier said.

Five adults from Tampa were arrested on prostitution-related charges during "Operation Cross Country II," which was completed last week, authorities said. The FBI, Tampa Police Department, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and other agencies participated in the crackdown locally.

Law enforcement agencies conducted the operation in 28 cities. There were 642 arrests, and 47 children were affected. A similar operation occurred in June and one child was rescued in Tampa.

Authorities focused on "hot spots" for prostitution, including motels along Nebraska Avenue in Tampa, casinos, large events that take place in the Bay area and online social networking sites.
Law enforcement agencies used stakeouts, undercover officers and tips from the public to find the children, Couvertier said.

Four of the six area children rescued were categorized as endangered runaways by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The teens are typically runaways who come from foster care or broken homes, Couvertier said.

Pimps or people who work for pimps coerce the children into a life of prostitution by preying on their weaknesses, he said.

Some children are given drugs to feed their addictions. Others are promised "the good life," money, or more emotional fulfillment than what they have at home, Couvertier said.

It is very difficult for children to escape because pimps intimidate and threaten them to stay, he said.

Most teens are rescued during undercover operations. Sometimes, it's as simple as locating the children, getting into contact with them and arranging for a law enforcement officer to pick them up and drive them to safety, Couvertier said.

"Sex trafficking of children is one of the most violent and unconscionable crimes committed in this country," FBI Deputy Director John S. Pistole said in a written statement.
Reporter Josh Poltilove can be reached at (813) 259-7691.

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