Fox News: FBI ‘Re-Evaluates’ Annual Roust of Sex Workers

A screenshot from an FBI video.
The FBI says it's rethinking Operation Cross Country. It should rethink terrorizing sex workers as well. (screenshot via fbi.gov)
According to Fox News, the FBI's beginning to accept that its annual sex-worker sting operation is a colossal failure.

If a recent Fox News report is correct, the FBI may finally have acknowledged that its massive, annual vice sting, Operation Cross Country, which ostensibly goes after child sex trafficking, has been an unmitigated disaster.

The FBI created the law enforcement action in 2007 on the premise that child sex trafficking had reached epidemic proportions in the U.S. In reality, according to Fox News, the program has rescued less than 1,000 juveniles and arrested just 1,374 alleged “traffickers” during its 10-plus years in existence.

As a result, Fox reports that the FBI didn’t even bother to hold a 12th iteration of the glorified sex trafficking sweep in 2018 and is now “trying to re-evaluate the program to see what improvements could be made,” according to unnamed sources at the bureau.

It’s a stunning admission for a program that in 2017, per an FBI press release, involved more than 500 law enforcement agencies and hundreds of law enforcement officials throughout the United States for “sting operations in hotels, casinos, truck stops, and through social media sites frequented by pimps, prostitutes, and their customers.”

In other words, despite the lip service given to rescuing kids from virtual sex slavery, the program has largely focused on harassing and arresting consenting adults involved in the sex trade. Indeed, the operation has terrorized sex workers from New York to Los Angeles for several days each year.

One of the most vociferous critics of Cross Country, Reason magazine associate editor Elizabeth Nolan Brown, has for years documented the failures of the operation and the fact that it arrested more sex workers and clients than actual “traffickers” coercing people into the industry.

Commenting on the 2017 testimony of then-FBI Director James Comey to the Senate Judiciary Committee concerning the 2016 version of Operation Cross Country, Brown noted that nationwide sting had resulted in merely “10 federal indictments” that year, “and only three cases involving any actual juveniles.”

On the other hand, she pointed out that, during his testimony, Comey copped to FBI agents collaring “996 `adult prostitution subjects'” during the operation. She concluded, “That’s 332 times as many sex workers arrested in the stings as people indicted on federal charges involving a minor.”

Using the figures available to her, Brown offered a lowball estimate of “6,227 prostitution arrests” since Operation Cross Country’s inception.

Brown later wrote of the results from the 2017 operation that,

The only victims in these cases are the sex workers themselves, who have any money they have on then taken by the cops; who may spend days in jail (and away from families or day jobs) before even going to court, and more time after; who have their names and mugshots plastered all over local news and online (sometimes in conjunction with degrading details and comments from cops); and who face court fees, fines, and a criminal record.

As Brown and other critics of Operation Cross Country have observed, relatively few indictments involving child sex trafficking have come out of these stings. In part that’s because, in spite of the moral panic whipped up around the issue, sex trafficking remains rare by comparison to other crimes, such as murder and rape.

The Fox News report, however, takes a different tack. It argues that Operation Cross Country has “barely scratched the surface” of the sex trafficking problem, which the report presented as widespread, basing this assertion on the much-debunked statistic of “over 300,000 young Americans” who are considered to be “at risk for sexual exploitation.”

As you might expect, sex workers rights advocates have greeted the FBI’s apparent concession that Operation Cross Country is a failed tactic, with verbal facepalms.

That 300,000 number has been cited, incorrectly, by numerous mainstream publications and government reports. It originates from a flawed 2001 study by University of Pennsylvania professors, Richard J. Estes and Neil Alan Weiner, titled, “The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.”

The factoid is based on a number of faulty assumptions and has been disproven by other academics and various news outlets over the years. Even one of the authors of the study, Estes, distanced himself from the figure when the Washington Post asked him about it in 2015.

As you might expect, sex workers rights advocates have greeted the FBI’s apparent concession that Operation Cross Country is a failed tactic with verbal facepalms.

Contacted via email for a comment on the Fox News story, Norma Jean Almodovar, author of the tell-all memoir From Cop to Call Girl  and doyenne of sex workers rights activists, wrote that she wished she could “send a pocket calculator to all those making these ridiculous claims” about sex trafficking, and demand that they, “DO THE MATH!

Former sex worker and Tucson-based filmmaker Juliana Piccillo, director of the soon-to-be-released documentary Whores on Film, tweeted a link to the Fox News piece, writing, “FBI admits Operation Cross Country is a failure. Hallelujah! #decrim now!!”

And author and noted anthropologist Laura Agustin, a longtime critic of the movement to abolish sex work, tweeted a link to the Fox News story with her own wry take.

“It took them 10 years to figure out raids are a waste of time,” she wrote in the Tweet. “But they still haven’t realised they don’t find many victims because there are so few. Another 10 years for that?”

ICYMI, please read:
State Department Report Belies Claims of Trafficking Epidemic

About Stephen Lemons

Stephen Lemons is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than 20 years of experience covering everything from government corruption to white-supremacist gangs. In addition to Front Page Confidential, his work has appeared in Phoenix New Times, the Los Angeles Times, Salon.com, and the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report magazine.

One comment

  1. Great Job!

    Finally….Now let’s move on to the Opiod crisis.

    Oh and by the way lets release all the children and publishers from jail and prosecution since they were only a means to boosting arrests – which did not work!

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