The advertisements were scattered around websites like CraigsList and BackPage, promising romantic rendezvous at New Jersey casinos, hotels and homes with women who were “just legal.”
For all the pretty phrasing, federal investigators say they knew exactly what the people behind each post were offering — child prostitutes, some as young as 13-years-old.
A 10-month investigation that targeted sex trafficking at Super Bowl XLVIII resulted in the rescue of 25 child prostitutes andthe arrest of roughly 45 “pimps” and others associated with exploiting teens as sex workers in New Jersey, federal investigators said today.
“High-profile special events, which draw large crowds, have become lucrative opportunities for child prostitution criminal enterprises,” Ron Hosko, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, said in a statement. “The FBI and our partners remain committed to stopping this cycle of victimization and putting those who try to profit from this type of criminal activity behind bars.”
Twenty-five child prostitutes between the ages of 13 and 17 were rescued in New Jersey as part of the operation, which began in April, said Special Agent Barbara Woodruff, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Newark Division.
Many of the girls were reported missing from New York and New Jersey, said Thomas Hauck, a supervisory special agent with the Newark field office.
Hauck said investigators did not find any links between the traffickers and organized crime. Most of the suspects were either members of trafficking rings who traveled to New Jersey to profit from tourists attending the Super Bowl, or offenders who normally operate in the area, he said.
The FBI would not release the names of the suspects, but Hauck said most will be charged with facilitating prostitution or child endangerment.
Many of the arrests were made after investigators pretended to be “johns” and responded to advertisements, Hauck said. Police would then arrange meetings with the prostitutes and rescue the women while arresting whomever was with them, he said.
“They’re not going to be as plain as day but there will be indicators … the photo in there, certain phrases, a lot of times they’ll advertise as ‘just legal,’” he said of the online advertisements. “There’s certain verbage that would lead you to believe it’s somebody young.”
Twenty-seven people were arrested in New Jersey in the past two weeks, according to Hauck, who said at least 50 other police agencies were involved in the initiative.
Arrests were made in Atlantic City, Fairfield, Jersey City, New Brunswick, Franklin, South Plainfield, Edison, Bridgewater, Parsippany and Paterson, according to Hauck.
The victims in this case, and many other trafficking incidents, were likely victims of sex abuse or were drug abusers or runaways who were lured in by a boyfriend or other male acquaintance, said Judy Harris Kluger, executive director of Santucary For Families, a New York-based advocacy group for victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking.
“Someone claims they’re going to help you,” she said. “Soon after the I love you turns into ‘You have to go out and you have to have sex with people and you have to get paid for it,’” she said.
While she was pleased with the results of the FBI probe, Kluger said police need to make more a concerted effort to battle sex trafficking outside of the shadow of events like the Super Bowl, and they have to do a better job of targeting the men and women who pay to have sex with young girls.
“Demand is what fuels the industry,” she said. “If you cut off demand, then there won’t be reason for the individuals to be taken advantage."