Authorities nabbed one local suspect and will follow up on other potential cases as part of a recent nationwide child sex trafficking sting.
“There’s a lot of activity, so there’s going to be a lot to follow up on,” said Sauk County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Jeff Spencer.
The three-day FBI-led sting, known as “Operation Cross Country VII,” netted 105 children who had been victimized through prostitution, as well as 150 pimps in 76 cities nationwide. In Wisconsin, 10 children were rescued and 100 suspects arrested.
Spencer said local operations were carried out mainly in the Wisconsin Dells area. Officers from the sheriff’s department, Baraboo Police Department, and Lake Delton Police Department assisted federal and state law enforcement agencies.
There only was one local arrest, Spencer said, for carrying a concealed weapon. He said authorities also made contact with several individuals suspected of prostitution, although none were children. Once the identities of those individuals have been verified, he said, agencies will attempt to assist the suspected prostitutes, rather than charge them with crimes.
“Charging them isn’t going to do anything,” he said. “What we try to do is get them out of that lifestyle. Many of them start young. They pay their pimps half of what they make. A lot of the time they’re scared to get out.”
During a similar operation last year, six children were rescued and 60 individuals were arrested in Wisconsin.
“Children rescued as a result of these types of operations are often vulnerable and have been misled with promises of food, shelter and a future, and often times, love, only to be ensnared into a life of isolation, intimidation, violence and sex trafficking,” Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said. “I’m extremely thankful to the FBI for its leadership and all of our outstanding local law enforcement partners because without their commitment and cooperation, we wouldn’t be able to hold suspected traffickers accountable and rescue their victims. We know child sex trafficking occurs in Wisconsin, and with newly added resources, we want those looking to prostitute children to know that their organized crime won’t be tolerated here.”
As part of the state’s biennial budget, the Wisconsin Department of Justice will receive an additional three special agents and two criminal analysts specifically to address child sex trafficking.
Chad Elgersma, a supervisory special agent with the FBI’s Milwaukee office, said there is a myriad of reasons a young person or adult could wind up in the sex trade.
“They prey on victims vulnerabilities,” he said of the pimps who run such operations. “One girl may be addicted to drugs, and the subject may keep her hooked on drugs. With others, it may be socioeconomic or financially based reasons.”
Elgersma said it’s likely that intelligence gathered from the recent sting will yield more arrests and charges in the weeks and months to come.
The FBI said it had been monitoring Backpage.com and other websites as a prominent online marketplace for sex for sale. Backpage.com said that it was “very, very pleased” by the raids and that if the website were shut down to the advertisements, the ads would be pushed to sites that wouldn’t cooperate with law enforcement.
The young people in the roundup, almost all of them girls, ranged in age from 13 to 17.