Police throughout the country continue to announce large child trafficking busts, which have been a part of a coordinated effort with federal law enforcement agencies. The most recent effort, called Operation Stolen Innocence, concluded this week in Tallahassee, Florida, with the arrest of 170 people.
Police say that the investigation began roughly two years ago when law enforcement officials were tipped off about a young 13 year old girl who was being trafficked by her mother for money and drugs. The girl’s mother regularly traded her daughter to strangers for drugs, for at least two years.
On Tuesday, TPD Chief Lawrence Revell and other officials announced the results of the operation, saying that the arrests have been taking place over the past several months, but police have been quiet about the operation and the arrests because they did not want to alarm any additional suspects. Revell estimates that this is the largest child trafficking operation in Tallahassee’s history.
Chief Revell said the young girl is “on the road to recovery, and she’s doing well given the situation.”
Judging from the charges, it appears that the investigation looked into many other cases as well, because not all of the suspects were charged with crimes against children.
106 people were charged with felonies, including human trafficking, lewd and lascivious battery on a child under 16, and production and possession of child pornography. Another 72 people were charged with misdemeanors, including solicitation of prostitution, which likely means that they were arrested in the course of the operation, but not involved with child trafficking.
Unfortunately, government statistics with these crimes can be sometimes misleading, because the umbrella term of “human trafficking” is used to describe a wide range of activities, ranging from child trafficking to independent sex workers who get caught in the act with clients.
In this recent case in Florida, the misdemeanor arrests likely involved adult sex workers who were acting on their own accord and their clients, which is much different than child trafficking or even human trafficking, which involve coercion. What this means is that technically, 106 people were arrested for child trafficking, while another 72 were charged with simple “solicitation of prostitution.” 106 is still a large number, but it is an important distinction that is often overlooked.
Some prominent local figures were arrested in the bust, including a former write-in candidate for local office, a P.E. teacher, and a former chairman of the Seminole Boosters, Inc., a fundraising arm for Florida State University athletics.
“The arrests in this operation are the culmination of the diligent work from our dedicated investigators, who have worked tirelessly to bring justice to the victims in this case. I cannot say enough about the work that you all did and how proud I am of each of you,” Revell said.
Numerous agencies worked with local police in the investigation, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the State Attorney’s Office, and the Leon County Sheriff’s Office.