Child commercial sex exploitation is a devastating and pervasive problem. According to World Vision over ten million young children are caught up in the sex industry-prostitution, pornography and sex tourism. UNICEF reports another one million children enter the sex industry each year. These are some of the disturbing statistics that Joseph B. Haggerty Sr., Retired Vice Detective, Metropolitan Police Department, Washington D.C. gave to the audience of the Public Safety Writer’s Association annual conference earlier this month. Haggerty Sr. has interviewed over 5,000 prostitutes and hundreds of pimps. He has learned the culture and the language. He is also the author of Shame: The Story of a Pimp. After his presentation, I felt compelled to follow-up to share how law enforcement officers could learn from his experience and assist in reducing this tragedy.
Haggerty Sr. began with some statistics, “There is an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 children that are reported missing each year. Many return home within a short time period, but too many end up on the street under the watchful and exploitive eye of a pimp. An estimated 30-50% of the women working as prostitutes on the street are under the age of 18. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children the average age of the juvenile prostitute is 14.” Vulnerability is a key factor in the sex trade and children are never willing participants. Pimps seek out runaway and homeless youth. Many children are leaving abusive and traumatic home situations and most head to the nearest city where they will become sex slaves within an average of 30 days. These children are dependent on their pimps to provide basic necessities such as food, clothing, shelter and protection. Pimps are experts at isolating them, controlling them and convincing them that the helpers, law enforcement, either work for them or are the bad guys. Victims can be either gender, from the United States or abroad. Law enforcement officers, both in patrol and investigations, can make a difference in the problem of child commercial sex exploitation. Here are four ways:
1. Ask Enough questions
“One of the biggest problems is too many times when an arrest is made of a prostitute not enough questions are asked,” Haggerty Sr. explains. “The officer wants to finish the paperwork as soon as possible and be back on the street. With the Washington, D.C. police we have a form called a prosecution report which is used in the majority of our arrests. Patrol officers need to think like investigators and realize this is a great time to gather intelligence.” Haggerty Sr. states the defendant’s home address can be significant. “Many times a pimp will give the women that work for him the same home address,” he says. “Sometimes it's made up. A knowledgeable officer may know that the address doesn't exist, but instead of writing that information in his report he writes no-fixed address or that the defendant refused to give a correct address. A good investigator would be able to identify the defendant's pimp and the other women working for him just by comparing the home addresses given.” He states the report asks for a list of three family members or friends as well. “These are questions the bail agency will ask, but too many times the arresting officer fails to record this information. This information could lead to the real identity of the defendant as well as her real age.”
2. Document a Complete Description