August 28, 2018, Lake County, FL
Detectives in Lake County wrapped up a major prostitution sting this week, recovering a 17-year-old human trafficking victim.
The 10-day investigation known as Operation Catfish used the internet to cut down on prostitution. One aspect of the investigation targeted people who responded to an advertisement to sexually exploit a 14-year-old child. When they arrived at the meeting location, they were quickly arrested. Six men fell for the trap (left).
The detectives also responded to numerous online ads for prostitution and arrested an additional 34 people on prostitution or drug charges. One of the ads was for a 17-year-old human trafficking victim who was recovered from being exploited. Any minor involved in sexually exploitive work is, by definition, a victim of human trafficking. Also included are three men facing charges of transporting someone for the purpose of prostitution. Are they pimps or traffickers? That remains to be seen.
It is also unclear how many of those arrested are victims who were forced into prostitution. In our previous article, we discussed victimology and why trafficking victims don’t run. Often, a badge of honor is given to those who get arrested and don’t rat out their trafficker.
Victims are often so manipulated they are willing to serve jail time to make their traffickers happy.
Each time law enforcement attempts a sting like this, they easily find people willing to pay to exploit children. This demand is the reason there are so many prostituted individuals in our communities. Human trafficking is a business. There are far too many people willing to pay for sex and, as a result, traffickers force people into sex trafficking to meet the demand.
If there were no buyers, traffickers would go out of business.
The name of the operation is quite interesting because in this instance the police used a tactic often utilized by online predators and turned it around on them. Urban Dictionary’s most popular answer defines a catfish as: “someone who pretends to be someone they’re not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.” We often warn teens and parents that people can be anyone they want to be online, so be careful. This time, law enforcement beat them at their own game.
by Blair Pippin • Creative & Prevention Director