Two young girls allegedly forced into prostitution were rescued last Thursday, one in Ontario and one in Hemet, after a federally backed task force conducted a two-day sweep in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

The girls have been working the streets as prostitutes for a while, according to FBI spokeswoman, Laura Eimiller.

The FBI hasn't released any further information about the girls in order to protect them.

"They were taken into protective custody and are being given medical evaluations and psychological counseling," Eimiller said. "From there they will be placed somewhere safe to continue to protect them from future harm."

The Inland Empire Child Exploitation and Prostitution task force, comprised of officers from various local police departments and the FBI, rescued the two juveniles as a part of last week's sweep. The task force is tasked with investigating matters of child exploitation, primarily the sexual trafficking of minors.

Authorities coordinated and led several operations to identify and recover victims of sexual trafficking, resulting in the recovery of the two girls, as well as 16 arrests on charges including pandering, pimping, prostitution and human trafficking, according Eimiller.


Advertisement

Arrested in the sweep were Leticia Hernandez, 18 of San Diego; Ashley Jackson, 25 of Berkeley; Melissa Rivera, 21 of Duarte; Shawnique Drake, 22 of Desert Hot Springs; Tiffany Amirmoini, 22 of Chino; Chalene Sprinkle, 20 of Oak Hills: Katie Byrne, 32 of Fresno; Ciara Garrett, 22, Sacramento: and Ashley Diaz, 19, Bronx, N.Y. No hometowns were available for Kira Whittonisenberger, 41, Julie Ann Scott, 52, and Kimberly Lynn Franklin, 47.

Charles Joseph Penniman, 18, Rajhad Soud Greene, 32 and Havloc Boston, 44 were all arrested for alleged human trafficking/pimping and drug possession.

San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos has taken the reins of this issue that continues to plague the county.

In 2012, prosecutors filed 338 prostitution-related cases, 37 of which were minors.

He recently announced several new directives to strengthen his zero-tolerance policy on human trafficking.

"For some time there has been the misconception that human trafficking is an evil that only happens in faraway countries, but make no mistake, it is happening right here in our own county," Ramos said.

"We have taken significant steps and strengthened existing partnerships to send the message that if you commit this horrendous crime in our county you will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law."

His drive to end this local and national Pandora's box will be by taking away the fuel that ignites this firey problem, the customers.

These traffickers include the pimps who run the business on the street and through the screen of technology.

Internet-based trafficking has also made it easier for customers who solicit sex for money.

They are now able to go online and purchase services without ever having to leave their homes and risk being caught.

One of the biggest suppliers of online sex trafficking is the website Backpage.com, according to Ramos.

Advertisements for "escorts" can be found for nearly every city in San Bernardino County and they all include girls and boys who are selling sexual services - some of whom are juveniles as young as 13 years old, he added.

Ramos said Backpage.com charges one dollar and up for adult services ads, generating upwards of $22 million a year.

"If Backpage really cares about victims like they say they do, then they should immediately shut down its escort service section," Ramos said. "Clearly, they are more concerned with profit over people."

San Bernardino County Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation (CASE) Coordinator Anne-Michelle Ellis pointed out that commercial sexual exploitation is a problem that affects all ages in all parts of the county, even children are forced into this underworld. 

"It's important to realize that commercial sexual exploitation affects children in all parts of our county," she said.

"It's not just the kids from 'those' neighborhoods or 'those' families. All children are vulnerable, and the biggest vulnerability is their age."

The question is asked as to what can society do to stop this tragic life from happening to the children working the streets?

There isn't just a single answer, according to president and executive director of Forgotten Children inc. Pastor Paula Daniels.

"Each year, more than two million children are exploited in the global commercial sex trade. Many become trapped in prostitution."

The commercial sexual exploitation of children is trafficking, regardless of circumstances," said Daniels.

"Currently 1 in 3 children are at risk of becoming victimized by a domestic trafficker and an average of 2,185 children go missing each day or every 1 1/2 minutes, worldwide," she added.

Daniels has programs that assist these children including a shelter that will protect these girls from the brutality a pimp would inflict on them.

According to one undercover detective with the San Bernardino police, some of the girls are taken to Las Vegas to work weekends and holidays.

The youngest prostitute she found working the streets of San Bernardino was 13.

"Those who patronize the commercial sex industry are the ones that keep these victims in bondage." Daniels said.


Reach Doug via email, call him at 909-386-3925, or find him on Twitter @crimeshutterbug.