SWOP-Chicago Response to Operation Cross Country VI

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Beginning on June 21, the FBI and state and local law enforcement agencies conducted a 72-hour sweep called Operation Cross Country VI with the aim of recovering minors in the sex trade. Operation Cross Country VI is part of the Innocence Lost National Initiative, a nation-wide FBI initiative launched in 2003 intended to address the problem of underage prostitution.
SWOP-Chicago strongly supports efforts to make contact with and improve services for youth and individuals forced or coerced into sex trade. However, we oppose the strategies used in Operation Cross Country for a number of reasons.

First, the operation broadly targets the sex trade. This means that dozens of sex workers, many of whom entered may have entered the sex trade as minors and may only be a few years over 18, are arrested for every minor recovered. (An operation in 2008 ‘recovered’ 46 juveniles and arrested 518 prostitutes. The most recent Chicago branch of Operation Cross Country ‘recovered’ 3 minors in prostitution, arrested 6 individuals for management-related charges (not necessarily management of minors but likely adults), and arrested 126 other individuals for prostitution offenses).

Second, although the operation is intended to help minors in the sex trade, most of the ‘recovered’ minors are initially arrested, handcuffed, and treated like criminals before being forced into residential treatment centers. (see images from the operation here). Minors are still charged with prostitution in over 40 states; elsewhere, although minors are not formally charged with prostitution, the outreach dynamic is similar.
Youth in the sex trade and street-based economies need access to services, but arrest and mandated services should not serve as the point of entry, especially because many have less than positive experiences with law enforcement officers.

The strategies used in Operation Cross Country have appeal because of stereotypes of underage involvement in the sex trade, and widely circulated narratives of underage sex slaves who were kidnapped and then forced to engage in sexual labor.

However, the majority of youth in the sex trade are runaways and/or homeless/unstably housed youth who enter voluntarily in order to meet basic needs. And most exploitation by third parties relies on emotional coercion of vulnerable, isolated youth, not abduction and forced sexual labor. In other words, outreach to most youth in the sex trade does not require government raids or law enforcement intervention.

Moreover, studies repeatedly show that law enforcement raids are not even an effective strategy strategy for identifying and rescuing individuals forced or coerced into prostitution. See also: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/oct/20/government-trafficking-enquiry-fails; http://www.scribd.com/doc/90809335/Silence-on-Violence-Improving-the-Safety-of-Women-and-the-Policing-of-off-street-sex-work-and-sex-trafficking-in-London

Given the reality of underage prostitution in the United States and the track-record of raid-based rescue initiatives, SWOP-Chicago believes there are other, more effective and empowering ways that national  and local governments can help youth in the sex trade and street-based economies. They can increase funding for transitional housing programs and shelter beds in major cities. They can help runaways and street-based youth help themselves by funding peer support, advocacy and education programs. They can work to build trust between law enforcement officers & service providers AND street-based youth, so youth reach out, get help themselves, and report pimps and other individuals who commit violence against them.
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For additional commentary, please contact: Kris Morgan – media@swop-chicago.org

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