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Operation Cross Country VII Roundup and Comments

Date: July 30, 2013

Across country, yet another round of FBI’s Operation Cross Country sweep took place over three days last week, which is (supposedly) aimed at “rescuing” young people who are trafficked into prostitution and arrest those responsible for trafficking them. This is the seventh and the largest Operation Cross Country sweep to date, with 76 cities participating.

According to FBI, law enforcement agencies have “recovered” 105 youth and arrested 159 “pimps.” It is important to remember that, because of the broad definitions of “sex trafficking” and “promoting prostitution” (which is often considered “pimping”), these youth may or may not be under control of or exploited by a third party, and these “pimps” may or may not be controlling or exploiting the youth.

I have written previously about how these “rescue” operations uncover rather small number of minors who are in the sex trade (between one and two youth per city on average), while putting a large number of adult women in jail (see this and this). The pattern seems to hold true this time around: law enforcement agencies “rescued” (as in, they handcuffed and took away) 105 young people aged 13-17 in 76 cities in three days, which is about 1.38 youth per city.

Here is an updated chart summarizing the impact of Operation Cross Country I thru VII.

Spotty Data from FBI’s Operation Cross Country sweeps
Source: FBI press releases; last updated in July 2013

  Date Cities “Rescues” “Pimps” Other Arrest
1 06/25/2008 16 21 unk 389
2 10/27/2008 29 49 73 642 (518 adult sw)
3 02/23/2009 29 48 unk 571
4 10/26/2009 36 52 60 700
5 11/08/2010 40 69 99 885
6 06/25/2012 57 79 104 unk
7 07/29/2013 76 105 159 unk

As with the last time, I am also compiling information that are not on FBI’s website, but made public through local media (who probably get information from FBI).

City-by-City Roundup of Media Reports on Operation Cross Country VII
Source: FBI press release unless otherwise specified; last updated in July 2012

Division “Rescue” “Pimp” Adult SWs Notes Source(s)
Atlanta 2 17? 9 FBI Atlanta reports 10 arrests for “pimps” and 9 adult prostitution arrests; FBI in DC reports 17 “pimps.” WJBF and WRDW report 9 arrests for prostitution and 2 for sexual exploitation in Augusta area: does this mean all adult prostitution arrests in Georgia took place in Augusta? FBI Atlanta; WJBF ABC/Augusta; WTVM Columbus; WRDW Augusta
Baltimore 0 3 unk    
Birmingham 3 2 unk   Alabama Media Group; CBS Birmingham; WBRC FOX/Birmingham
Boston 3 0 unk Media report that all three youth were found in Maine, which is part of FBI Boston Division. Maine Sun Journal; WLBZ NBC/Bangor
Charlotte 1 3 unk    
Chicago 2 1 96   Daily Herald (Chicago)
Cincinnati 0 2 unk
Cleveland 1 1 23?   Toledo Blade
Columbia 1 1 unk WLTX reports 2 were arrested for promoting prostitution, not 1. The State (Columbia); WLTX Columbia
Dallas 1 1 unk   Dallas Morning News
Denver 9 6 51 KWGN reports 11 “pimps” were identified, and 25 “johns” arrested. KWGN Denver; Denver Post
Detroit 10 18 41 Detroit Free Press has details on 8 of the 10 “rescues”: they involve seven 17-year olds and one 16-year old. FBI Detroit; WWJ/CBS Detroit; Detroit Free Press; Advisor & Source
El Paso 0 2 16? AP reports 19 arrests in El Paso including three pimps; FBI reports only two pimp arrests. Las Cruces Sun-News
Houston 3 0 unk   Associated Press
Jackson 1 10 24? Jackson Free Press reports 24 people other than the minor and the “pimps” have been arrested on “related” charges, most likely adult prostitution. WJTV Jackson; WDAM Jackson; WJTV CBS/Jackson; WJTV CBS/Jackson; Jackson Free Press
Jacksonville 0 1 unk   Florida Times-Union
Kansas City 1 1 unk   KSHB NBC/Kansas City
Knoxville 0 7 11 Media report 8 “pimps” were arrested, not 7. Knoxville News Sentinel
Las Vegas 2 1 53+ Multiple news media report 2 “pimps” were arrested together with 1 youth “recovery,” even though FBI says 2 victims and 1 pimp. I tend to believe media reports because of the detail it provides (e.g. names of each “pimps” and specific charges against them). Adult women were also met with faith-based anti-trafficking “advocate.” 12 adult women arrested in Reno, 41 in Las Vegas. KOLO Las Vegas; Celebrity Examiner (Sacramento); Las Vegas Sun; KVVU FOX/Las Vegas
Los Angeles 2 3 unk   Los Angeles Times
Louisville 0 3 unk   WHAS Louisville
Memphis 3 2 unk   Commercial Appeal (Memphis)
Miami 0 4 35   Miami Herald; Hartford Courant
Milwaukee 10 0 100   FBI Milwaukee; FOX 6 Milwaukee; Capital Newspapers; CBS Milwaukee
Minneapolis 1 4 unk   WCCO CBS/Minneapolis
Newark 0 5 65+? News-Record quotes U.S. Senator saying that at least 70 arrests took place in New Jersey; The Current reports the same. Detail unknown. News-Record; The Current (Galloway)
New Haven 5 1 4+ 4 adult women arrested in Norwich alone. The Day (New London); Connecticut Post; Norwich Bulletin
New Orleans 6 6 64 KPLC has the breakdown of all arrests. Media report that there were 76 “arrests,” which would mean that “rescued children” were also arrested instead of being treated as victims. Of minors, 2 were from Baton Rouge and 4 from New Orleans. Advocate (Baton Rouge); WWLTV New Orleans; KPLC NBC/New Orleans; KATC Lafayette
New York City 0 0 7+ No “rescues” or “pimp” arrests in New York, but Saratogian and Saratoga Wire report seven adult women were arrested in Saratoga Springs in the course of the sweep. Saratogian; Saratoga Wire
Oklahoma City 3 13 36 The Oklahoman has full listing of all 60arrests connected to OCC7: 10 “pimps,” 36 adult women selling sex, 11 buyers, and 3 minors (age 16, 17, and 17). I assume that FBI is counting three buyers who were caught with the three minors as traffickers (as some law enforcement agencies do) to arrive at the total of 13 “pimps.” KOTV Tulsa; Muskogee Phoenix; Associated Press; The Oklahoman; The Oklahoman
Omaha 0 1 32+ Lincoln Journal Star reports that 5 adult women were arrested in Lincoln. The sole “pimp” is a boyfriend of one of the adult women arrested in the sweep. KOLN reports that there were 33 arrests total in Nebraska, 7 in Lincoln alone. Des Moines Register reports that 33 were “customers,” but this is clearly untrue. Lincoln Journal Star; Des Moines Register
Philadelphia 2 0 unk
Phoenix 2 0 30? KTVK reports “30 people were arrested including several pimps.” However FBI does not report any arrest of “pimps.” KTVK Phoenix
Pittsburgh 0 2 unk    
Portland 3 4 13   FBI Portland; The Columbian (Vancouver, WA); KREM Spokane; The Oregonian
Sacramento 2 2 unk   Fresno Bee
St. Louis 2 0 unk FBI says 2 youth recovered, but KPLR says 3 (age 16, 17, and 17). KPLR also says a pimp was “located.” KPLR St. Louis
Salt Lake City 0 0 unk    
San Antonio 1 4 unk   San Antonio Express-News
San Diego 5 6 50 Union-Tribune reports that three of the teens were returned to home, while other two were sent to detention. NBC reports 6 “rescues,” not 5. NBC San Diego; San Diego Union-Tribune
San Francisco 12 17 65   San Jose Mercury News; KGO ABC/San Francisco; San Francisco Chronicle; Vacaville Reporter
Seattle 3 3 55? FBI Seattle reports 9 arrests for abuse of minor; DC office says 3. 55 adult women were “identified and interviewed”–it is unclear if they are arrested. Seattle Times; The Columbian; King 5 Seattle
Springfield 0 2 unk    
Tampa 3 0 64 Tampa Bay Times reports 8 pimps have been “identified” but have not been arrested. News-Press reports 18 pimps have been identified. News-Press has the breakdown of arrests by county/area, adding up to 64 adults arrested for prostitution. WTSP CBS/Tampa; Tampa Bay Times; News-Press (Fort Myers)
Washington, D.C. 0 0 unk    

I want to make some comments, perhaps repeating myself from before.

First, when you hear that the law enforcement “rescued” or “liberated” young people, think about this photo from FOX News:

FOX News Photo

I’m not sure if this is an actual photo from Operation Cross Country sweep, or a stock photo FOX decided to pull out from somewhere, but this is exactly what “rescue” actually looks like. In fact, if you read closely to news reports, young people are arrested as part of their “rescue.” (Also, FOX News reports that the youngest victim was 9 year old, but that case is not from this raid. It is the youngest victim FBI has ever “rescued” years ago. According to FBI, the youngest victim uncovered during OCC7 was 13 year old, and most were 16-17 year olds.)

I am not suggesting that “rescues” are never necessary. Sometimes, like when someone is forcibly held against his or her will, we have no option but to call the police. But that is not a common experience of young people (as well as adults) in the sex trade: like many victims of domestic violence, even those who are experiencing abuse and exploitation do not leave their abusive environment because that is the best they can survive, given the social and economic circumstances, not because they are held hostage and unable to leave.

Domestic violence advocates know that “rescuing” abuse victims from their homes and forcing them into shelters involuntarily is generally not a solution. They believe, instead, in building resources and voluntary support services so that victims can receive long-term, ongoing assistance in dealing with the situation and leaving the abusive environment if and when they decide to do so. The same principle applies when we are working to support victims of abuse and exploitation in the sex trade.

I wrote previously about an innovative project in the anti-domestic violence movement in which hairstylists are trained about basics of domestic violence and survivor support. Hair salons are ideal place to provide support and information because it is a female-oriented space where many women spend a lot of time talking about their lives–much lower threshold than calling a crisis line. When hairstylists are trained to be good listeners and informed community advocate, they can build a relationship with women struggling with their relationships and offer support and referrals when they want it.

Anti-trafficking advocates too often neglect decades of development within the anti-domestic violence movement that can and should inform our approach to assisting youth and adults in the sex trade. Too often, anti-trafficking policies penalize people like cab drivers and hotel staff as well as friends and family members for developing any relationship with people involved in the sex trade (especially when there are pimps involved) unless they immediately call the police or other “rescuers,” labeling them “pimps” or promoters/facilitators of prostitution/trafficking. By preventing people in the sex trade from developing relationship, these policies isolate them and make them more vulnerable to violence and abuse.

Another things I want to point out is the incoherence of the anti-trafficking hyperbole in the face of this three-day, nationwide prostitution sweep. Anti-trafficking organizations routinely claim (falsely) that there are hundreds of trafficked “children” in any given city, who are forced to have sex 10-15 times a day, every day: if that is the case, why do they only find 105 minors in a three-day police sweep mobilizing law enforcement agencies in 76 cities? And if the “average age” someone is first trafficked into prostitution is 13, as anti-trafficking groups routinely claim (falsely), why is the youngest person they could find in the three-day nationwide sweep 13? It does not make sense.

Finally, I’d like to say kudos to Los Angeles Times for the best (by comparison, that is) mainstream coverage of OCC7, in which the paper focused on the failure of the foster system that creates vulnerabilities for young people. I would add, though, that it is not just foster system that is broken; it is our welfare system, our education system, our immigration system and criminal justice system (because many young people end up in foster care after parents are deported or imprisoned), and of course everything else.

As Los Angeles Times points out, any young people are on the street after running away from the child welfare system. “Rescues” only put them back into the system that have failed them already, and chances are they will run away again. And of course when many young women are arrested for prostitution in these raids, more of their children will go into the child welfare system. We need to stop spending millions of dollars in these useless law enforcement campaigns and use that money to fix social institutions that fail youth in the first place.

Speaking of media coverage: here’s the most bizarre photo accompanying the article about OCC7:

Bizarre News Photo

[Update] Maggie McNeill confirms that the photo in the FOX News article is a stock photo.


  1. Thank you so much for doing this work and for all the research you do! Your analysis is direly needed and very much appreciated. This report above is articulate and straightforward, an important contribution. Thanks Emi!

    Comment by Carol Leigh — July 30, 2013 @ 9:22 am

  2. If you are interested, I just finished putting together the arrest statistics for prostitution (and disorderly conduct) by age, gender and year- from 1981 to 2011- taken from the FBI Bureau of justice statistics:

    And arrests of female minors over that same period- by age and year: (the majority of arrests were of 17 year olds)

    The arrests of females under 18 over that time period show that there is actually a significant decrease in arrests of minors from the high in 1982 where it drops off and then there is a slight increase in 2005, which then drops again thereafter for all ages under 18…

    Comment by Norma Jean Almodovar — July 30, 2013 @ 10:42 am

  3. The LA Times editorial board voted No on California Prop 35, because they allowed themselves to be educated and those of us who showed up to educate them did so at our own expense because we believe in stopping the proliferation of lies about our industry is important.

    Comment by Maxine Doogan — July 30, 2013 @ 11:33 am

  4. Thanks so much for compiling all of this.

    Comment by Tara — July 30, 2013 @ 5:14 pm

  5. Thank you for collecting all the available info. One small adjustment: the 10 noted for Milwaukee (my city) is actually for the whole state of Wisconsin. It was 8 in the Milwaukee County area (5 in the city, 3 in the suburbs) and 2 in Dane County (Madison). They note Milwaukee because the FBI operations were based here but fanned out across the state. I haven’t been able to find out yet how many of the 100 other arrests were adult sex workers across Wisconsin. I know the vast majority were but it appears that some were released without arrest or tickets. And some of the arrests were for outstanding warrants or other offenses like carrying a concealed weapon, not prostitution or trafficking related offenses.

    Comment by Claudine O'Leary — July 30, 2013 @ 6:37 pm

  6. Claudine: Yes, all of these numbers are based on FBI divisions, not actual city limits. Anyone interested in finding out what cities are actually covered by a specific FBI division should take a look at this document:

    Also, I am not that interested in what actual charges are brought up against women arrested in this sweep. What matters to me is that many adult women were arrested as a result of the campaign to “rescue” youth.

    Comment by emigrl — July 30, 2013 @ 9:15 pm

  7. I think one thing you forget here is that in order to arrest all of these people at the same time on the same day in a ‘seep’ you have to put in a lot of investigation hours beforehand. And then wait, leaving the children at further risk despite having enough information to ‘rescue’ them. Were are the ethics in that? If these kids are being forced to have sex 10 to 15 time per day shouldn’t you ‘rescue’ them as soon as possible and not wait the day, week, month? until the coordinated bust comes down?

    Since this national sweep has happened seven times now I wonder if itis possible o analysis the times between sweeps to determine the average? Bad guys can now operate with impunities until the next average sweep and then close up shop for a little while and wait until it is over and then start again.

    This whole national sweep thing is nothing about crime fighting or policing or rescues it is about publicity and funding and politics.

    Comment by Matt Hazz — July 31, 2013 @ 6:52 am

  8. […] it no longer does so. Local media reports on the sweep aggregated by feminist blogger and activist Emi Koyama suggest the number of sex workers arrested in Operation Cross Country may have been as high as […]

    Pingback by Some Child Sex Trafficking Victims 'Rescued' by Recent FBI Sting Could End up in Jail | TNT — August 7, 2013 @ 12:01 pm

  9. […] it no longer does so. Local media reports on the sweep aggregated by feminist blogger and activist Emi Koyama suggest the number of sex workers arrested in Operation Cross Country may have been as high as […]

    Pingback by Some Child Sex Trafficking Victims 'Rescued' by Recent FBI Sting Could End up in Jail | CNT — August 7, 2013 @ 12:04 pm

  10. […] to reflect the long-held ambivalence about prostitution, which continues to rescue victims by arresting, detaining, and prosecuting them rather than by focusing efforts on the traffickers – both the “pimps” and the […]

    Pingback by Minnesota Lawmakers Lead National Efforts to End Sex Trafficking | The Advocates Post — August 16, 2013 @ 8:57 am

  11. […] Operation Cross Country is an ongoing, intermittent FBI project where every once in a while they sweep the country “rescuing” (ie, arresting) youth in the sex trades and also arresting adult prostitutes and pimps. In 2009 they visited Alaska twice and found no children to rescue. Here is a round up of rescues, pimps, and other arrests by city and operation. […]

    Pingback by National Statistics – Sex Trafficking in Alaska — September 1, 2013 @ 8:31 pm

  12. […] FBI boasts that it charged 150 people it describes as “pimps.” The FBI left off their press releases the 41 adult women arrested as sex workers during the course of these raids in Las Vegas, or the 64 […]

    Pingback by Sex Workers vs. Spitzer - THE REAL PORN WIKI LEAKS — October 21, 2013 @ 2:28 pm

  13. […] Operation Cross Country VII Roundup and Comments, Emi Koyama (in which Emi goes the mile most newsrooms did not and crunches the numbers on a coordinated, national FBI sting operation) […]

    Pingback by Sex Work in 2013: No Debate | postwhoreamerica — December 31, 2013 @ 10:19 am

  14. […] Operation Cross Country VII Roundup and Comments, Emi Koyama (in which Emi goes the mile most newsrooms did not and crunches the numbers on a coordinated, national FBI sting operation) […]

    Pingback by Melissa Gira Grant | Sex Work in 2013: No Debate — July 17, 2014 @ 2:29 pm

  15. […] news coverage of the next two sweeps: During Operation Cross Country VII, 944 sex worker arrests were made in the 23 of 76 total participating cities that disclosed stats for “other arrests.” […]

    Pingback by Sex Workers Outreach Project | Things to Know About Operation Cross Country and Raids to "Rescue" Child Sex Trafficking Victims — October 24, 2015 @ 4:18 pm

  16. […] news coverage of the next two sweeps: During Operation Cross Country VII, 944 sex worker arrests were made in the 23 of 76 participating cities that disclosed stats for “other arrests.” During […]

    Pingback by Is Operation Cross Country the Best Way to Fight Child Sex Trafficking? | Forensic News — October 29, 2015 @ 10:51 am

  17. […] worker activist Emi Koyami checked local news releases and found that 944 adult sex workers were arrested in 23 of the 76 cities that released data in the 2013 operation (105 children […]

    Pingback by Loretta Lynch’s false claim on sex trafficking arrests — November 24, 2015 @ 10:16 pm

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