By Charlotte Cuthbertson
Local and federal law enforcement recently rounded up 21 suspects in Arizona who solicited and/or brokered deals for various sex acts with children.
The “children” were undercover detectives who “placed ads on websites commonly sought out by suspects seeking illegal sex acts,” according to the Surprise Police Department, located in Maricopa County, Arizona.
“Operations of this type are a part of the Surprise Police Department’s continuous effort to reduce the demand that fuels child sex trafficking and exploitation of children in our community,” the department stated in a Facebook post on Sept. 22.
All 21 suspects have been charged with attempted sex conduct with a minor and child sex trafficking. One has additional drug charges.
The suspects range in age from 23 to 63 years.
Earlier this month, the sheriff’s office in Florida’s Polk County arrested 160 people—including a police officer, a Disney employee, and school teachers—as part of a seven-day multi-agency undercover prostitution investigation.
“The online prostitution industry enables traffickers and allows for the continued victimization of those who are being trafficked,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said in a Sept. 9 press release.
“Our goal is to identify victims, offer them help, and arrest those who are fueling the exploitation of human beings … and those profiting from the exploitation of human beings.”
The age of those arrested ranged from 19 to 64 years old, and their criminal histories included 419 previous felonies and 619 previous misdemeanors, including charges for kidnapping, robbery, and sex offenses.
Polk County detectives charged the 160 suspects with a total of 52 felonies and 216 misdemeanors.
During a multi-state operation in May, 70 children were rescued from sex traffickers, most of whom were based in West Texas.
The missing children and teens ranged in age from 10 to 17 years old and were victims of sex trafficking and physical and sexual abuse.
Missing children are usually reported as runaways, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).
“Of the more than 25,000 cases of children reported missing to NCMEC in 2021 who had run away, 1 in 6 were likely victims of child sex trafficking,” the organization’s website states.
The statistic rises to one in five for children who run away from social services.
“Children who have run away are disproportionately targeted by traffickers and buyers, who prey upon vulnerabilities and a child’s need for basic resources like food and a place to live,” NCMEC states.
The average age of girls forced into the commercial sex trade is between 12 and 14; and for boys, it’s 11 to 13, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
The top five states for sex trafficking in the United States are California, Texas, Florida, Ohio, and New York, according to the National human Trafficking Hotline.
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