By Mark Ellis
A sex-trafficking task force in Long Beach rescued 22 girls aged 12-17 and arrested 91 people on a variety of sex charges after an eight-month investigation, according to a story in the Long Beach Press Telegram.
Most of those arrested were gang members, Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell told a news conference on September 24th. He said the gangs are selling young women and girls because it’s more profitable than the drug trade.
“They can make about ($600,000) to $800,000 a year,” McDonnell noted. While drugs can only be sold once, a girl involved in sex trafficking can be sold multiple times.
The average age a girl gets involved in the sex trade is 13 – through pornography, stripping, or prostitution, authorities note. A large percentage of the girls came out of the foster care system.
The task force worked with other government agencies, including the L.A. Police Department’s Internet Crimes Against Children unit, the city and county district attorneys’ offices and other community organizations, according to the Press Telegram.
One of the rescued women told police she was forced into prostitution for 10 years, sold repeatedly from pimp to pimp,” according to authorities. She is currently receiving counseling and treatment.
Some victims were lured into the sex trade by “Romeo pimps,” who find vulnerable girls on social media, in high school and even middle schools, pursue a romantic relationship with them, and use devious tactics to force them into prostitution, McDonnell said.
Of the 91 arrested, 20 were booked for human trafficking, eight for pimping, 24 for assisting a prostitute, 29 for solicitation of a prostitute and 10 for online trafficking-related crimes, according to the Press Telegram.
A task force event in January featured a mother and daughter who were both involved with the sex trade. D’Lita Miller said she tried to shelter her five children from the suffering she endured as a sex worker.
When she discovered her 16-year-old daughter, Simone, had been arrested for prostitution, she was shocked.
“I was out there on the streets trying to minister to people, never thinking that my own child would experience what I had experienced,” Miller said. “I thought it was a generational curse. I thought it was my fault.”
Simone became a victim of sex trafficking while still in high school. She thought she was going to a party with friends but instead was dragged to an L.A. hotel, where she was held hostage for seven days and forced into sex slavery. She finally was able to escape and find help.
After helping another 16-year-old girl escape in Long Beach, detectives recently found surveillance footage from a Target store there of the girl and two men who were keeping her in the sex trade. Police have released the video hoping the public will help identify the perpetrators.
“There are few things more disturbing than the buying and selling of children for sex,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “Our children are not for sale and they are not prostitutes; they’re victims.”
McDonnell expressed concern that those convicted spend the maximum time in prison. “At the federal level, they serve 85 percent of their sentence,” McDonnell said. At the state level, offenders might serve only a fraction of their term.
Anyone with information about someone who may be a victim of human sex trafficking or who can identify the two males seen in the surveillance video is asked to contact the Long Beach police vice investigation detail at 562-570-7219.
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