CHICAGO–(ENEWSPF)–August 25, 2011. A long term undercover investigation into the forced sex-trafficking of children and young women by Chicago street gang members has resulted in charges against nine offenders in the nation’s first-ever state-based wiretap investigation targeting the crime of human trafficking, Cook County and Chicago law enforcement officials announced yesterday.
Operation “Little Girl Lost” targeted street gang members who sex-trafficked children and young women, some as young as 12 years old, to sell their sexual services on the streets or the internet as a commodity. In almost every instance, the traffickers or “pimps” took all of the money collected in the sex transactions and used indoctrination, drugs, threats and intimidation to control the young women and to prevent them from leaving their custody. The traffickers employed extensive physical and emotional abuse, as well as the use of other psychological tactics including branding tattoos, face-slashing, beatings, forced bowing, and “trunking,” a punishment that involves locking the young woman or girl in the trunk of a car and driving around for extended periods of time.
The nine offenders, who were arrested over the last two days, are charged with Involuntary Sexual Servitude of a Minor and Trafficking in Persons for Forced Labor, Class X felonies, punishable by up to 30 years in prison. The arrests and charges were announced by Anita Alvarez, Cook County State’s Attorney, Garry McCarthy, Chicago Police Superintendent, Darryl McPherson, U.S. Marshal, and officers from the Cook County Sheriff’s Police Vice Unit. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) also provided ongoing assistance during the investigation.
According to Alvarez, street gang members have added human trafficking to their criminal profiteering, often parlaying their status or association with a gang to foster credibility with those controlling turf in various locations where the offenders run the sex trade.
“Street gang members are not just selling drugs any longer, they are selling children and young women for sex right here in our own backyards, in some of the most violent and appalling cases of sex trafficking,” Alvarez said.
“Most of these young women and children are recruited and seduced into this life by experienced predators that first prey on their vulnerabilities and then force them into a violent and demeaning ordeal.”
In addition, throughout the course of the investigation, law enforcement recovered dozens of young women and girls, removing them from the control of the traffickers and providing them with social services and housing options to help encourage them to escape the cycle of abuse.
The year-long investigation also entailed ongoing street-level operations to reduce the local demand for sex trafficking and resulted in arrests by Chicago Police and Sheriff’s Police officers of more than 50 customers, or “johns,” as well as the seizure of nearly 40 vehicles.
“Human trafficking is an unspeakable crime that not only strips victims of their rights, but denies them their freedom,” said Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy. “Today’s arrests represent months of hard work and unprecedented cooperation between the Chicago Police Department, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners.”
The State’s Attorney’s federally funded Human Tracking Unit works in partnership with The Salvation Army’s STOP IT program and the International Organization for Adolescents (IOFA), and during the investigation, these social service providers were embedded with police and prosecutors in order to provide real-time referrals for the recovered young women and girls.
Operation “Little Girl Lost” employed the first full use of the provisions of the Illinois Safe Children’s Act, a sweeping new law written by the State’s Attorney’s Office and approved by the General Assembly last year.
Among its provisions, the Safe Children’s Act provides law enforcement with new court-ordered wiretap authorities, increased criminal penalties, and new fees and penalties for “johns,” which directly help fund police operations and social services.
The investigation marks the first time in Cook County and across the nation that law enforcement employed a state-based wiretap in a human-trafficking investigation. During the wire, authorities intercepted thousands of telephone calls between the offenders, associates, and customers in order to collect intelligence and investigative information. The “Little Girl Lost” operation also involved numerous search warrants, internet analysis, and covert operations, including “decoy” missions wherein undercover officers pose as sex-workers or customers.
According to investigators, the offenders typically recruited the children and young women as “sex workers,” and kept them under full time supervision, isolating the girls from their families and friends, and often threatening and beating those who attempted to leave their control.
The offenders are all gang members, former gang members or associates of various Chicago street gangs. The offenders worked in concert with each other under an informal partnership, often sharing or exchanging the young women and girls between their groups, or at other times even competing with each other for control over certain victims, or selling them to one another for a price.
The “Little Girl Lost” operation will also involve a coordinated community-based effort between police, prosecutors and city of Chicago regulators to help restore the neighborhoods harmed by the offenders.