10 child prostitutes in Washington rescued during nationwide sweep by FBI

Tuesday, February 24, 2009 – Page updated at 12:00 AM
By Mike Carter
Seattle Times staff reporter

Police and federal agents rescued 10 child prostitutes and arrested 35 people in Western Washington as part of a nationwide sweep aimed at curbing the sexual exploitation of children, according to the FBI.

Nationwide, “Operation Cross Country III” last week took 48 child prostitutes into protective custody and police and agents in 29 cities — including Seattle, Everett and Tacoma — arrested 571 people for investigation of state and federal charges involving the domestic trafficking of children for sex.

“We continue to pursue those who exploit our nation’s children,” said FBI Director Robert Mueller. “We may not be able to return their innocence but we can remove them from this cycle of abuse and violence.”

Special Agent Robbie Burroughs of the Seattle office of the FBI said most of those arrested here will face state charges, although three individuals arrested for pimping child prostitutes could face more serious federal charges.

FBI Special Agent Tarna Derby-McCurtain of the bureau’s Tacoma office is a member of a newly formed task force in Western Washington aimed at rescuing child prostitutes and prosecuting those who lure them into the lifestyle.

She said the Department of Justice formed the task force here after seeing a trend of both victims and pimps coming from Washington. It met first in Pierce County in 2007 and since has obtained at least three indictments against men accused of luring teenage girls into sexual slavery.

“They go to malls. They’re on MySpace,” Derby-McCurtain said. “They go wherever young people gather,” where they prey on young girls with low self-esteem. “We see both throwaway kids, and kids who are middle-class.”

The ones lured into prostitution wind up on the “West Coast track,” traveling on a sex circuit that ranges from Vancouver, B.C., to Los Angeles to Las Vegas, Derby-McCurtain said.

She said there’s no easy answer to the question of why Western Washington seems to attract both young victims and those who exploit them.

But the data, she said, is clear and the new task force is targeting the problem, emphasizing the arrests of the pimps and getting help for their victims.

On Monday, the state House of Representatives unanimously passed a measure that would create a diversion program for teenagers arrested for the misdemeanors prostitution and prostitution loitering. The bill would allow judges to sentence teens to the program, which focuses on treatment, education and housing instead of incarceration.

Bill sponsor Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle, said that teens can stay in the program for up to one year.

She said that prosecutors will have discretion on who they recommend into the program — teens can have prior convictions and can have spent time in the diversion program before.

“These children truly are victims of some pretty horrific sexual abuse,” said Dickerson, who has been working with prosecutors, law enforcement and children’s groups on creating the legislation since last summer. “I look at them not as criminals but as victims who need a lot of care and safe housing.”

There has not been an announcement on when the measure will be heard before the Senate.

In 2007, a new state law toughened the penalty for adults convicted of forcing juveniles into prostitution.

In the past, suspects accused of coercing underage girls into prostitution were most often charged with first-degree promoting prostitution, also a felony.

Unlike promoting prostitution, anyone convicted of commercial sexual abuse of a minor has to register as a sex offender.

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or mcarter@seattletimes.com

Information from Seattle Times staff reporter Jennifer Sullivan and Times archives is included in this report.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

Link to original story in Seattle Times

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