DENVER (CBS4) – Dozens of children have been rescued and pimps arrested across the nation in an FBI sex trafficking sting.
The FBI’s Rocky Mountain Innocence Lost Task Force partnered with other local law enforcement to go after sex traffickers who put children up for sale. They announced the results of the latest sting on Tuesday.
In Colorado and Wyoming, nine children were rescued, 11 pimps were arrested along with 32 customers in the latest sting.
The intensive three-day effort concentrated on hotels, truck stops, street corners and social media apps to target the traffickers. The youngest child recovered was 14 years old.
The latest effort was in coordination with the FBI’s 10th annual nationwide operation targeting child sex traffickers known as Operation Cross Country involving 38 agencies across the U.S.
Denver Police Sgt. and Rocky Mountain Innocence Lost Task Force member Daniel Steele says his team spent more time than ever investigating social media sites. He says the sites pose as social media but are common portals to the sex trade. The examples that he offers run the gamut from Facebook, Meet Me, Plenty of Fish and Grinder.
Steele say those applications are how most traffickers will now find their victims and the customers demanding the sex.
“We’ve now seen sex traffickers and buyers alike looking at their devices and say, ‘Wow … I sit on my couch, in my car or a street corner and I can pick and choose a person I want to exploit.'”
Law enforcement says a sex trafficker can earn $100,000 per year, per child. It’s estimated in Colorado and Wyoming 2,000 children are exploited yearly. In just one case two pimps got caught driving underage girls across the Midwest for sex, according to Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Denver FBI Division, Calvin Shivers.
“When they got to Denver they posted ads on a well-known sex site and fortunately met with us instead of customers,” Shivers said. “These young girls were giving every penny they earned to the pimps.”
Prosecutors say charges involved in sex trafficking do not carry mandatory prison time. Law enforcement and prosecutors hope legislators at the state Capitol will take note that it perpetuates the problem.
First Judicial District Attorney Peter Weir and 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler say the lack of mandatory jail time needs to change.
“My hope is with the right amount of public awareness and pressure they (legislators) will start thinking the way the rest of Colorado thinks,” said Brauchler. “This should have the promise of prison.”
Weir says his office daily deals with the human condition associated to sex trafficking.
“You think you’ve seen the depth of depravity until you deal with an adult that exploits the sexual innocence of our kids,” said Weir. “We’re not going to tolerate this in Colorado.”
The average age someone gets into the sex trade is 13. Statistics show that once in that world, they rarely get out.
Police in Denver believe it could happen to any child, anywhere.
“It can be your kid. It can be anybody’s kid. And while it’s true that traffickers look for vulnerabilities, I would argue that every teen has some kind of vulnerability, whether they’re feeling left out, whether they’re feeling alone, seeking relationships, seeking affection, seeking some kind of acceptance for wherever they’re at,” said Steele.