Operation “Little Girl Lost”: Joint Undercover Human Trafficking Investigation Charges Revealed
The long-term undercover investigation – Operation “Little Girl Lost” – targets street gang members of Chicago who are involved and are perpetrators of child prostitution and sex-trafficking. This is the nation’s first-ever state-based wiretap investigation that focuses on abolishing human trafficking, especially of children and young women. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced on August 24, 2011, that charges against nine offenders had been made.
Sex-trafficking involves young women and adults who are being taken advantage of for profit. As young as 12 years old, children are being used for sexual services, marketing them on the streets or online, through the internet. These children are being treated as commodities used to profit through sex transactions, where the financial gain often goes entirely to the “pimps” or the trafficker. They are kept under their leash through physical, emotional, and mental abuse, even employing psychological tactics. Furthermore, they use severe methods to keep these children under their custody such as indoctrination, drugs, and threats, and also including branding tattoos, beatings, and “trunking” – a form of punishment that is locking the victim in the trunk of a car for an extremely long period of time.
Street gang members have become the criminal targets of the undercover human trafficking investigation. This is due to the insight that these street gang members have included human trafficking in their illegal services to receive dirty money. According to Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, gang status and symbol have its way of establishing credibility and fostering sex trade in the areas of the controlled territory. State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez further adds that “street gang members are not just selling drugs any longer. They are selling children and young women for sex right here in our backyards, in some of the most violent and appalling cases of sex trafficking. 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.”
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced that the nine offenders of the case that were arrested on August 22, 2011, are gang members, and were subsequently 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. Along with State’s Attorney Alvarez were the Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, and the United States, Marshal Darryl McPherson. Further assistance was provided by the Cook County Sheriff’s Police Vice Unit and the Federal Bureau of Investigation High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) of the United States Attorney’s Office.
With one year undercover, street-level investigations were also accomplished, which recovered numerous victims of human trafficking. These children and young women were offered social services, other assistance to help them escape the cycle of abuse, and ultimately free themselves from the control of their pimps. Moreover, over 50 costumers of sex trade called “johns” and 40 vehicles were arrested and seized by the Chicago Police and Sheriff’s Police officers.
Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy issued a statement stating, “human trafficking is an unspeakable crime that strips victims of their rights and denies them their freedom. 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.”
Employing the provisions of the Illinois Safe Children’s Act written by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, led by State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and implemented by the General Assembly, the Operation “Little Girl Lost” becomes the first investigation that utilized the state-based wiretap in a human trafficking prosecution and investigation. The Safe Children’s Act aims to allow and provide law enforcers with tools such as wiretapping and increased criminal penalties, among others, in order to attack and abolish human trafficking aggressively. With these new tools, numerous calls between offenders and their associates have been intercepted to gain substantive information and intelligence, which lead to the curating of many warrants, and internet analysis. The “Little Girl Lost” operation also employed the use of “decoy” missions as extensive undercover investigation measures.
The nine arrested offenders are all gang members or associates belonging to different Chicago street gangs, who worked with each other under an informal partnership to keep the sex trade in the city active. These gangs often share or exchange “sex workers” and may indulge in competitions regarding rates and payments.
Investigations revealed that sex-traffickers often take children and young women and turn them into “sex workers,” keeping them under their custody by isolating the girls from their families and friends and using abuse of all sorts. The federally funded Human Trafficking Unit of the State’s Attorney’s office, The Salvation Army’s STOP-IT Program, and the International Organization for Adolescents (IOFA) worked in collaboration with each other in order to assist the children and young women. They guided the police officers and prosecutors by providing real-time referrals for the sex-trafficking victims. Funds for the police operations and other social services are extracted from the new fees and penalties for arrested costumers of the sex trade.
The joint undercover human trafficking also involves community-based effort. Law enforcers and regulators of the City of Chicago will work hand-in-hand to aid in the restoration of the neighborhoods and the victims harmed by the offenders.