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posted: 8/4/2013 8:00 AM

FBI: No community immune from child prostitution

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A push to save children who are forced into prostitution led FBI agents to partner with their suburban law enforcement counterparts last month to look for potential victims on neighborhood streets, in area hotels and even on websites, authorities said.

By the time the three-day operation came to an end on July 27, FBI officials say, two underage girls were saved in the Chicago area and one person was arrested on pimping charges.

For FBI Special Agent Jonathan Williamson, the operation was a success.

"You always want to recover more juveniles because we know they are out there," said Williamson, who works on the Violent Crimes Against Children Task Force in Chicago. "But we're happy with the results."

The local sweep -- which included police from Arlington Heights, Aurora, Elgin, Elk Grove Village and Naperville -- was part of a nationwide crackdown on child sex trafficking that rescued 105 young people, almost all girls ages 13 to 17. Authorities also arrested 150 pimps during the operation in 76 cities across the country.

"Child prostitution is still a very big problem across America," Williamson said. "We're seeing it in every city."

During Operation Cross Country, federal, state and local law enforcement officials worked to identify pimps and locate children who have been forced into the sex trade. Williamson said suburban police departments agreed to participate in the Chicago-area sweep because they understand victims could be found anywhere.

While affluent suburbs aren't likely to have prostitutes walking their streets, the Internet has made it easier for the sex trade to operate at hotels, authorities said.

During the July 25 sweep in Naperville, authorities arrested four women at different hotels around the city and charged all of them with misdemeanor prostitution. Police said the women had used the Internet to arrange meetings with individuals who turned out to be undercover officers.

Five other women were arrested on July 25 under similar circumstances in Aurora and Elgin.

FBI officials said operations usually begin as local law enforcement actions targeting truck stops, casinos and websites that advertise dating or escort services.

"Juvenile prostitutes just don't stick out," Williamson said. "You've got to go out and do enforcement. That's how you're going to come across juveniles involved."

Arresting adult prostitutes gives authorities the opportunity to question them. Information gained from those arrested "frequently uncovers organized efforts to prostitute women and children across many states," FBI officials said.

"Our goal is to rescue the children who are being victimized," FBI Special Agent Joan Hyde said.

"The prostitutes may be adults now, but they may have begun as children," Hyde said. "They may have been victimized earlier in their life. And they may give us intelligence that's going to lead to those involved in victimizing children."

Operation Cross Country is part of the Innocence Lost National Initiative that was established in 2003 by the FBI, Department of Justice and National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Seven of the nationwide sweeps have been held since 2008, according to Hyde.

More than 230 agencies across the country participated in the most recent sweep, which was the largest of its kind to date, authorities said.

Authorities said they saved the most children in San Francisco, Detroit, Milwaukee and Denver.

"We want to rescue the children," Hyde said, "and then we want to disrupt and dismantle the organized crime element that helps make (child sex trafficking) possible."

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