As FBI Arrests Pimps In Operation, 5 Myths About Sex Trafficking

On Monday, the FBI announced that 159 "pimps" had been arrested nationwide in the largest sex-trafficking sting operation to date. More than one hundred children between the ages of 13 and 17 were rescued from 76 American cities. Most of them were girls. 

The FBI told press that the children they'd recovered had been sold for sex in a number of public places, including large sporting events and truck stops, and that their initiative was just the tip of the iceberg. Sex trafficking, they continued, was visibly apparent on the streets of "every city in America." Sex trafficking is often perceived as a non-American issue, but this crackdown reminds us that isn't the case. Click on for the five biggest myths about sex trafficking in the United States:

FBI Arrests 150 Pimps In Giant Sex-Trafficking Sting

On Monday, the FBI announced that 159 "pimps" had been arrested nationwide in the largest sex-trafficking sting operation to date. More than one hundred children between the ages of 13 and 17 were rescued from 76 American cities. Most of them were girls. 

The FBI told press that the children they'd recovered had been sold for sex in a number of public places, including large sporting events and truck stops, and that their initiative was just the tip of the iceberg. Sex trafficking, they continued, was visibly apparent on the streets of "every city in America." Sex trafficking is often perceived as a non-American issue, but this crackdown reminds us that isn't the case. Click on for the five biggest myths about sex trafficking in the United States:

Myth 1: Trafficked kids are mostly foreign.

Trafficking is usually imagined as a problem where young, foreign women are taken from their home countries and then sold for sex inside the U.S. In truth, every girl that's trafficked in the U.S. is ten times more likely to be an American than foreign-born. 

Almost 300,000 children (defined as younger than 18) all over the country are considered at risk for sexual exploitation — in other words, the FBI is concerned that they're being trafficked, but don't have the proof to make it an official statistic. The FBI has launched Operation Cross-Country (see this video) to deal with the epidemic, which has become the second-largest industry in the world. Only the drug industry is more prevalent.

Myth 2: Sex-trafficking victims are usually kidnapped.

Make no mistake, these children are exploited — but it's usually not a Taken-style scenario. Often, victims are held by the force of their pimp's manipulation, rather than literally imprisoned. Victims frequently report being ensnared by loving boyfriends who talk them into prostitution, sometimes just as a "one off." Eventually, they become trapped in a web of violence, abuse, and manipulation. 

Because prostitution is a crime in itself (and one that carries serious legal penalties) girls are often afraid to go to the police out of fear they'd be prosecuted as criminals. Their pimps will often add to that fear by threatening them if they turn themselves in. The average age of sex-trafficking victims is between 12 to 14 years old: in other words, they're too young to know how to get out. 

Myth 3: Sex trafficking occurs outside of "normal" venues.

Within accepted sectors of the sex industry, it's often assumed that workers are there by choice. Hostesses, pole dancers, and escorts are all paid to look like they're available voluntarily. Unfortunately, sex trafficking can often occur in each of those positions.

In the recent FBI sting op, traffickers weren't subtle about where they sold the children: according to reports, the trafficking took place on websites, classified newspapers, highway truck stops, and even at sporting events.

Myth 4: Most pimps are eventually caught and brought to justice.

In the movies, the bad guys get caught. In real life, only a tiny fraction of sex-trafficking perpetrators are ever charged.

Critics have said that the FBI's estimate that 300,000 children are being trafficked within the U.S. is tame, but for the sake of argument, let's assume they're right. Since Operation Cross-Country kicked off in 2003, they've rescued 2,700 children, and secured 1,350 convictions. Of all of the above, only eight pimps have been given life sentences, and not many more have ended up spending time behind bars. All in all, less than one-hundredth of the children the FBI believes are being trafficked have been saved. That's less than a 1 in 100 shot of being rescued by authorities if you become a victim.

Myth 5: Foster care children are protected against sex-trafficking by authorities.

A disturbing trend among victims is their background: half of California's sexually trafficked children come from the foster-care system, even though only one in 100 Californian children are within it. Authorities say that children who come from broken homes are targeted and manipulated by pimps, leave foster care, and "literally fall off the radar."

"These kids are usually without an involved parent," said an FBI analyzer. "Pimps can come into their life and initially take on the role of protector."