“It’s not about making a whole bunch of arrests. It’s about finding victims,” Sgt. Byron Fassett of the Dallas Police Department said. “Obviously, our goal first is kids, then adult victims.”
A recent North Texas operation, part of the FBI’s nationwide Innocence Lost initiative, rescued children aged 16 and 17 years old and included runaways, authorities said. In addition, more than 65 women and children who were identified in the operation were offered services such as food and clothing along with referrals for medical facilities and shelters.
It was a coordinated effort, with 18 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies taking part, and it included traditional undercover stings to target johns.
Child prostitutes are typically slightly younger than the ones arrested in North Texas this month, about 14 or 15 years old, Fasset said. He said they tend to be chronic runaways and victims of prior physical or sexual abuse who come from dysfunctional homes.
“That’s what the traffickers and the johns take advantage of,” he said. “You have people out there who feel they have nowhere to go. It makes it very, very easy for them to be exploited on the streets.”
They have to depend on adults because they can’t get a job, open a bank account or rent a car or hotel room, Fassett said.
New Friends New Life, a Dallas nonprofit that helps sex trafficking victims, is currently assisting the girls and women who were rescued in the North Texas operation.
Katie Pedigo, its executive director, said the victims are all from North Texas. But former prostitutes have told stories about being on the move constantly, she said.
“They tell us they would be moved from place to place, depending on where the demand is,” Pedigo said.
And that usually is during major sporting events, where large numbers of men are, she said. Pedigo said North Texas law enforcement agencies serious about breaking up child sex trafficking are willing to use new techniques to address the problem.
“They are revolutionary in the work they’re doing,” she said.