HOUSTON, Texas–Six child victims and three pimps were discovered by law enforcement officers during the last several days in Texas. The apprehensions were made as the result of Operation Cross Country, an effort to curb commercial sex trafficking in the United States. Michelle Lee, a San Antonio-based FBI spokeswoman, told Breitbart Texas that the sexual exploitation of children is “increasing exponentially.”
The victims and pimps found during the most recent sting were located in Austin and San Antonio, according to a press release from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The recovered children were victims of child prostitution.
“A lot of our victims are from broken homes,” Lee said. “The term that you use that we hear a lot, which is really sad, is ‘throwaway children.’ Those are children who come from broken homes where there are various kinds of abuse, as well as drug and alcohol problems. I think all families are dysfunctional to some degree–but we see a lot of kids from truly broken homes.”
Not all child victims, however, come from such households. Lee mentioned that the FBI deals with many kids from “middle class backgrounds,” as well.
“They live a normal childhood, but then end up getting sucked up into this really dark world,” she said. “That appears to be something that is increasing. In many cases the child is attracted to the predator because they believe that they predator is going to help them get a wonderful career in modeling or acting. Other times young girls can be very niave; they meet an older man who shows them attention. Sometimes very innocent interactions lead to other [abusive] activity.”
The number of child victims, as well as the number of arrests, related to child exploitation increases every year. Lee said, “It’s not just because we’re getting better at understanding the threat. … The threat is also getting worse. At least here in San Antonio, our observation is that children are being victimized in increasing numbers when it comes to sexual exploitation and trafficking. It’s increasing exponentially.”
The popularity of social media could be a contributing factor in the increase of child exploitation.
Lee said, “This could be related to the prevalence of social media and how children now display their lives to the world. This gives child predators–including those who would sexually exploit them–a menu to see what kinds of kids are out there and kinds of kids would make them the most money.”
She added, “Children are recruited using social media. Predators are using online social media to advertise the children and find children . We continue to remind parents to not let their children have [unlimited] access to social media sites. If they have a smart phone or computer, parents have to monitor them very carefully–predators will reach out to them and contact them. … This idealistic notion that you can give a child [total] independence and trust them just isn’t realistic in today’s world. … Children don’t have the judgement skills to determine what is a dangerous situation and what is not.”
Citizens and parents are encouraged to contact law enforcement if they see a situation that may involve an endangered minor.
Ultimately, the sexual exploitation of children is “not a pleasant topic to discuss and think about,” Lee said. “A lot of us don’t want to see it. A lot of us are in denial. We think it’s something that happens in a third world country. But it is here, in small town U.S.A.”
Follow Kristin Tate @KristinBTate.