Inside a Prostitution Sting
To Save a Child
Inside a Prostitution Sting
|Watch the sting in action in this video feature.
The video is also available through our
"Inside the FBI" podcast on iTunes.
A walkie-talkie crackles, and a muted voice describes the suspect about to enter the hotel lobby: white female, blonde hair, wearing jeans. She is a prostitute, and this will not be a good night for her.
The Prince William County Police Department officers doing surveillance in the hotel parking lot have just radioed her description to their colleagues in Room 401, and the casual conversation in the room between officers and FBI agents quickly turns to business.
Voices become hushed, and everyone takes their stations. The undercover detective posing as a john hurries into the adjoining room to wait for a knock on his door, while officers and agents monitor the concealed cameras and microphones that will record the prostitute agreeing to sex for money.
In a matter of moments the illicit deal is struck, and two officers rush through the door separating rooms 401 and 403. The adult woman is handcuffed and taken into custody.
Adult prostitutes, however, are not the primary interest of the FBI—juvenile ones are. Last week’s sting in Northern Virginia was part of a three-day nationwide operation conducted through our Innocence Lost Initiative, which aims to stop the sex trafficking of children.
Innocence Lost was established in 2003 to bring state and federal law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and social service providers together through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, where efforts are coordinated on a national level. The idea is to treat juvenile victims of prostitution not as a local problem—as historically had been the case—but as the national problem it truly is.
|Prince William County police officers watching the
undercover operation unfold on hidden camera
One undercover agent in our D.C. Child Exploitation Squad taking part in the sting says he has seen child victims as young as 12 years old. As he talks, he surfs the Internet’s underbelly—the numerous sites that cater to prostitution. “Prostitutes are on the Internet now more than they are on the streets,” he explains.
The agent will contact “escorts” on the Internet, who will then follow up with calls to his cell phone. Prices will be negotiated—anywhere from $150 to $350—and appointments will be made. In the language of the trade, if a prostitute visits a john, that’s an “out call.” If the john visits the prostitute, that’s an “in call.”
On this night, it’s all out calls. Our partnership with Prince William County officers results in the arrest of five adult prostitutes and one pimp—no juveniles, but every piece of intelligence gained from arresting adult prostitutes and their pimps is valuable, because it could provide leads to underage victims.
“Our driving mission is to protect children,” says Supervisory Special Agent Melissa Morrow, who is leading tonight’s operation. Any credible lead, even from dodgy prostitutes and pimps, is worth checking out.
After an arrest, it’s hurry up and wait. The officers examine confiscated evidence—cell phones, a laptop, the contents of purses—check their recording equipment, and resume their casual banter.
But it’s still early—before midnight—and soon the walkie-talkie crackles again. The officers in the parking lot report that another suspect is on her way to the fourth floor. Everyone takes their places, waiting for the knock on the door.