SEATTLE -- The FBI and several state law enforcement agencies have recovered 69 children, including 23 in the Seattle-Everett-Tacoma area, in a three-day nationwide effort targeting child prostitution. About 885 other people, including 99 pimps, have been arrested.
"We recovered 23 children locally. I don't know if all of them are all from the state of Washington, but a good number," said Steven Dean, Seattle FBI office. "It's possible some were transported interstate by pimps from other states in the West Coast to our state."
"Operation Cross Country V" involved 34 FBI agencies in 40 cities across the country. Local Task Force teams targeted places such as truck stops, casinos, street "tracks" and Internet websites, and used information gathered by local law enforcement agencies. Law enforcement officials in Washington focused their efforts in King County, particularly in the Seattle, Kent and Seatac areas, said Dean.
"I'd say (the victims are) predominantly girls - 99 percent of girls in our area. I can't speak to the other areas," said Dean. "A good number of them are younger than 16, younger than 15."
"They would see a young lady at the mall, maybe see her a couple of times, talks to her, gets her phone number, maybe finds out where she goes to school, says she's very pretty, maybe interested in modeling. Next thing you know he's picked her up and hits her on the head. Next thing she knows she's in Portland. A couple of days later, she's on the 'track,'" said Dean.
Dean said some of the girls have been away from their family for years. Currently, the children are in protective custody.
Melinda Giovengo and Leslie Briner work for YouthCare. Their mission is to recover kids from prostitution.
They say children as young as 12 years old are being sold on the streets - recruited everywhere from MySpace and malls to middle schools.
The latest trend: gangs are now getting involved.
"Gangs have found that people are a renewable resource. You can sell an ounce of cocaine and it's gone but you can sell a girl again and again and again," said Briner.
The FBI says young girls selling their bodies represent a cross section of America.
"They're everybody's kids. Some of them, before they were involved in prostitution, were A-students," said Dean.
But there is hope. YouthCare spearheaded a new partnership between police, prosecutors, politicians and outreach workers. They established the "prostituted youth recovery fund" and have already put 6 girls in long-term treatment in just 5 months.
"By offering that hope we offer them a pathway out of this darkness," said Giovengo.
As for why our area has so many child prostitutes, outreach workers say there are two reasons - we are a magnet for homeless teens and runaways and we also have more people working to identify them and get them off the streets.
Dean said some of the pimps could face several decades in prison.
To date, the 39 Innocence Lost Task Forces and Working Groups have recovered over 1,200 children from the streets. The investigations and subsequent 625 convictions have resulted in lengthy sentences, including multiple 25-years-to-life sentences and the seizure of more than $3.1 million in assets.