Here’s a horrifying story out of Chicago, where at least two police officers are under investigation for the sex trafficking of a 14-year-old girl. The local Fox news station is referring to it as a “sex scandal,” but I think depraved and egregious abuse of power is probably a better descriptor. The officers were originally under scrutiny for possessing child pornography. An Internal Affairs investigation has since uncovered evidence that they were advertising a 14-year-old girl and potentially other teens for commercial sex.
This story comes just a few days after the FBI announced the “rescue” of “149 child sex trafficking victims” across the country. By children, the FBI means teenagers, and by sex trafficking victims, they mean any teen selling sex, regardless of whether force or coercion are involved. As more media reports of these so-called rescues are released, the inhumanity and futility of this model of “saving” teens in the sex trade becomes clear.
Take this account out of Michigan, where the FBI heralded the takedown of 12 alleged pimps and the recovery of 19 minors engaged in prostitution. After identifying “escort” advertisements featuring teens, Michigan State Police and FBI agents swarmed houses and hotel rooms en masse and raided them with weapons drawn. Teens they found were given two options: reunite with their parents or guardians, or receive no help at all—nevermind that some of these girls likely had good reason for running away from foster homes or parents in the first place.
FBI Supervisory Special Agent Michael Glennon, who led the Detroit sting, told the Free Press that some of the “19 children rescued” this week have already returned to the sex trade. But at least everyone got to add them to press releases about how many victims were rescued first, right?
This is what so many well-meaning people don’t seem to understand: the tough-on-crime approach to sex-trafficking is about arresting as many people as possible and wresting as many assets as possible from them, not legitimately helping sex trafficking victims (legitimately helping people means paying attention to what they actually need, not threatening them with arrest if they don’t testify against others or sending them to church-run “prostitution diversion” camps or giving them bags filled with socks and toiletries and calling it a day.) Just look at the language used by Marinus Analytics, a company getting lots of attention for using big data analysis to aid in human trafficking investigations. In its intro, Marinus promises to help cops and prosecutors “focus your attention to high value criminal targets” and “track the highest value criminal targets in less time.”
The assets that can be seized are the prize, the teens selling sex are just convenient cover. And sometimes worse, as in the case of the two Chicago officers. But while the age of the victim makes these agents’ actions stand out, tales of police paying, pimping, and sexually assaulting sex workers are far from rare