Police liberated 12 child prostitutes and arrested 21 pimps in an FBI-coordinated sweep that targeted people who forced minors -- some as young as 13 locally -- into the sex trade in the Bay Area and across the nation.
Nationwide, 105 children were rescued and 150 pimps were arrested on suspicion of state and local charges as part of Operation Cross Country, the FBI said.
"The issue and crime of child prostitution is not going away anytime soon," San Francisco FBI Special Agent in Charge David J. Johnson said. "The sexual exploitation of children could be happening in your neighborhood."
Locally, the police operations in at least a dozen Bay Area towns, which were among those in 76 cities across the country, resulted in both the highest number of rescued children and arrests of pimps. The FBI attributed the higher numbers to the region's high population density and year-to-year fluctuation in results of the annual human trafficking effort, which ranged from San Jose to Santa Rosa and Oakland to San Mateo.
Hayward and Santa Rosa saw the largest number of child prostitute rescues with three each, a blow to what Hayward police Sgt. Ken Forkus called an "ongoing issue that needs to be addressed."
In South San Francisco five suspected pimps were arrested during the sweep, which ran from Wednesday to Sunday in the Bay Area. Police in the Bay Area also arrested 65 adult prostitutes and 12 people for crimes such as being a sex offender not following court-ordered rules, the FBI said.
The children, including 16-year-old girls rescued in Concord and San Jose, were taken into protective custody after the operations, the FBI said. Because they are victims of human trafficking -- forcing someone to do something against their will -- authorities plan to connect them with social services. The goal is to keep the girls from returning to prostitution, FBI spokeswoman Julianne Sohn said.
During the operations police targeted prostitution hot spots. Officers kept watch on areas along Detroit Avenue and Laguna Street in Concord and the 23rd Street corridor in Richmond. San Jose officers made arrests at hotels; at one of them they discovered a 16-year-old girl with a pimp.
Authorities linked the girl up with advocates from South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking, San Jose police Sgt. Jason Dwyer said.
"One of the complaints we've seen the past couple of years has been increases in prostitution," Dwyer said. "When we do something like this, it resonates with the community; they see we're still out there."
Though much of the manpower was provided by local police agencies, ranging from the Alameda and Contra Costa County sheriff's offices to Oakland police, the money to pay the officers' overtime came from the FBI. Federal and local law enforcement officials will work together to determine if the cases should be prosecuted in county or federal court, Sohn said.
The sweep could give the girls a way out of a life filled with addiction, violence and solitude.
"With kids, it's completely different. They don't have the skill set or knowledge to know what terribly destructive lifestyle they're embarking on," Concord police investigations Lt. David Hughes said. "We want to get them off the street and into an environment where people care about them."
The next steps for these children will be the most important and the most difficult in righting their lives. At this point some lobby to keep the victims in the custody of authorities, said John Vanek, an anti-human-trafficking consultant and retired San Jose police lieutenant. The idea is to break the connection with their former pimps.
But some trafficking victims' advocates oppose the practice, said Vanek. They see it as more trauma for already brutalized people. Yet others consider staying involved with the children their best chance at breaking the cycle of prostitution. It's a debate that continues among the law enforcement and nonprofit workers who deal with trafficking victims.
"We in the anti-human-trafficking community promote the term victim offender," Vanek said. "They end up being treated as both a victim and an offender."