Here's a horrifying story out of Chicago, where at least two police officers are under investigation for the sex trafficking of a 14-year-old girl. The local Fox news station is referring to it as a "sex scandal," but I think depraved and egregious abuse of power is probably a better descriptor. The officers were originally under scrutiny for possessing child pornography. An Internal Affairs investigation has since uncovered evidence that they were advertising a 14-year-old girl and potentially other teens for commercial sex.
This story comes just a few days after the FBI announced the "rescue" of "149 child sex trafficking victims" across the country. (More on that effort, known as "Operation Cross Country," here.) By children, the FBI means teenagers, and by sex trafficking victims, they mean any teen selling sex, regardless of whether force or coercion are involved. As more media reports of these so-called rescues are released, the inhumanity and futility of this model of "saving" teens in the sex trade becomes clear.
Take this account out of Michigan, where the FBI heralded the takedown of 12 alleged pimps and the recovery of 19 minors engaged in prostitution. After identifying "escort" advertisements featuring teens, Michigan State Police and FBI agents swarmed houses and hotel rooms en masse and raided them with weapons drawn. Teens they found were given two options: reunite with their parents or guardians, or receive no help at all—nevermind that some of these girls likely had good reason for running away from foster homes or parents in the first place.
FBI Supervisory Special Agent Michael Glennon, who led the Detroit sting, told the Free Press that some of the "19 children rescued" this week have already returned to the sex trade. But at least everyone got to add them to press releases about how many victims were rescued first, right?
This is what so many well-meaning people don't seem to understand: the tough-on-crime approach to sex-trafficking is about arresting as many people as possible and wresting as many assets as possible from them, not legitimately helping sex trafficking victims (legitimately helping people means paying attention to what they actually need, not threatening them with arrest if they don't testify against others or sending them to church-run "prostitution diversion" camps or giving them bags filled with socks and toiletries and calling it a day.) Just look at the language used by Marinus Analytics, a company getting lots of attention for using big data analysis to aid in human trafficking investigations. In its intro, Marinus promises to help cops and prosecutors "focus your attention to high value criminal targets" and "track the highest value criminal targets in less time."
The assets that can be seized are the prize, the teens selling sex are just convenient cover. And sometimes worse, as in the case of the two Chicago officers. But while the age of the victim makes these agents' actions stand out, tales of police paying, pimping, and sexually assaulting sex workers are far from rare. In the past few months alone, we can pinpoint myriad examples from across the United States:
- Five Tucson, Arizona, police officers were fired over the summer after a sex-trafficking investigation into a local massage parlor revealed that the officers had "personal relationships" with women there. Two more officers resigned before the completion of the internal investigation. Another officer was fired "due to evidence of felony computer tampering discovered during the prostitution probe," the Arizona Daily Star reports. The county attorney's office has declined to criminally prosecute any of these cases.
- Three San Antonio police officers were arrested in September on charges including aggravated sexual assault, compelling prostitution and official oppression. The officers—Aaron Alford, Alejandro Chapa and Emmanuel Galindo—allegedly offered to pay three women for participating in an "investigation" that involved having sex with them.
- Dallas Senior Corporal Marqueon Skinner was fired in September after being arrested for soliciting prostitution.
- Two Brevard County, Florida, officers were also fired in September for being regular clients of a sex worker who was arrested.
- In August, Fresno, California, police officer Robert Knight was charged for facilitating the prostitution of his girlfriend.
- Las Vegas Detective Michael Kitchens was sentenced in August to three years' probation for assaulting a sex worker after he decided her fee was too high.
- Yakima, Washington, police officer Eric Walls was suspended in August—but not fired—for sleeping with two sex workers.
- In July, Fort Worth, Texas, police officer Ryan Candu was fired over allegations that he paid for sex while on duty and messaged obscene photographs of himself to others. Candu's lawyer argues that this isn't fair because other officers in the department have done the same thing but were not investigated or disciplined.
- In June, Weslaco, Texas, police officer Adan Sanchez and Tallahassee Police Sargeant Brian Davis were arrested for soliciting prostitution.
- Winona County, Minnesota, Sheriff's Deputy Josh Morken was fired in June after his indictment on three counts of solicitation.
- A former Dekalb County, Georgia, deputy was sentenced in June to one year in prison for soliciting multiple women for prostitution while on duty.
Care to keep going? Looking at news going back to this time last year turns up more than two dozen additional examples, including some involving police chiefs and multiple crimes involving young girls.
- Jeanerette, Texas, Police Chief Marvin Grogan was arrested in May in conjunction with a prostitution, drug, and child sex-trafficking investigation into Lipsticks Gentleman's Club. He was placed on administrative leave for a month before resigning. Grogan is accused of continuing to work security at the club after an official investigation ended and not reporting illegal activities taking place there.
- A Hayward, California, police officer was charged in May with grand theft. "Allegedly, he began a coercive relationship with a sex worker while he was an officer and, over several years, fraudulently took more than $500,000 from her," according to the Cato Institute's National Police Misconduct Reporting Project.
- In April, former Clark County Sheriff Danny Rodden plead guilty to destruction of evidence and making false statements to federal agents after paying a woman $300 for sex, giving her a deputy's badge and uniform so she could get hotel discounts, and lying about it.
- Bossier Parish, Louisiana, Sheriff's Deputy Larry Harrel was fired in April after being arrested for solicitation of prostitution.
- Then Country Club Hills, Illinois, Police Chief Mark Scott was arrested in March in a prostitution sting conducted by Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart (the man currently leading the crusade against sex workers advertising online) and his team. Scott had previously been arrested in 1998 for soliciting an undercover cop for sex.
- Kalamazoo, Michigan, Public Safety Officer Craig Jankowski was fired in March after a sex worker who was arrested for heroin possession outed him as a regular client.
- New Orleans police officer Ananie Mitchell, a member of the department's Gang Task Force, was suspended in March after being arrested for solicitation.
- In February, Coffeyville, Oklahoma, Police Officer Eric Wright was arrested after soliciting an undercover Tulsa cop for sex.
- In February, Miami Gardens Police Chief Stephen Johnson was fired after being arrested for solicitation. Johnson answered a prostitution ad for a "two girl special" posted by undercover officers in nearby Dania Beach, Florida. Notably, his bail was set at just $300; the typical bail for people arrested for prostitution is around $500-$1,000.
- Las Vegas Sergeant Keith T. Barrow was suspended in February after sleeping with a sex worker who stole his handcuffs and gun.
- Lubbock, Texas, Police Officer Dustin Wayne Hatley was arrested in February for soliciting prostitution and alleged sexually harassment of women while "acting under the color of his office or employment as a public servant."
- A former Carencro, Louisiana, police officer was indicted in February for extortion, illegally using a government database, and lying to federal agents. While an officer, Timmy Prejean allegedly accepted money to overlook prostitution at a strip club.
- In January, Cook County Sheriff's Deputy Fernando Rodriguez was charged with attempted sexual assault, unlawful restraint, and official misconduct. Fernando allegedly called a sex worker into his car and, gun in hand, told her "Take care of me the right way and I'll let you walk." He was interrupted by other police officers.
- Moundsville, West Virginia, Police Officer Benjamin Davis was arrested in January on two counts of sexual assault and two counts of soliciting a minor. He was placed on paid leave and resigned a month later. An investigation found multiple nude photos of teens on his phone, as well as texts he had sent them with nude pictures of himself.
- NYPD Police Officer Abel James was charged in January with patronizing a prostitute.
- Ocala, Florida, Police Officer Bennie Lee Wilson III was fired in January after allegedly paying a 16-year-old $20 for sex.
- In December 2014, former Nashville police officer Jonathan Mays was arrested for allegedly raping a sex worker while on duty.
- Macon County, Illinois, Sheriff's Detective Jay Lawler Sr. was arrested in a December prostitution sting.
- Dallas police officer David Kattner was arrested in December for allegedly forcing multiple sex workers to have sex with him under threat of arrest.
- Last November, Gainesville, Florida, Officer Robert V. Gebhardt was fired after an internal investigation found he visited a 19-year-old sex worker in jail after arresting her for shoplifting, later taking her out to dinner and paying her $50 for sex. He subsequently continued trying to see the woman, who was addicted to crack, and went searching for her at "known drug houses" when she wouldn't respond.
- Baltimore Police Officer Lamin Manneh was sentenced last November for running a multi-state prostitution enterprise in 2013.
- In October 2014, Philadelphia Officer Ronald D. Thompson was arrested for solicitation during a citywide prostitution sting.
- Three former Romulus, Michigan, police officers were sentenced to probation last October for falsifying police reports, embezzling drug forfeiture money, and soliciting prostitution while they were supposed to be investigating corruption at local strip clubs.
- West Baton Rouge Sheriff Deputy Florian Duetsch was arrested last October for malfeasance of office, prostitution, and abuse of office after allegedly meeting up with a sex worker and "using his badge as leverage" to get free sex.
- A former San Bernardino, California, vice detective was sentenced last October to 25 years in federal prison. Jose Jesus Perez was found to have forced sex workers to engage in sexual activity with him or face arrest; the assaults took place in 2011.
- Philadelphia Officer Ronald D. Thompson was arrested in an October 2014 prostitution sting.
- Former D.C. police officer Linwood Barnhill was sentenced in October to seven years in prison on charges of pandering a minor and possession of child pornography. While an officer, Barnhill recruited teen girls for prostitution and acted as their pimp.
Some will likely point out that this is a big country with a big police force, and a few dozen bad apples does not a dire situation make. But let's also remember that these are merely the cops who got caught and made the news. How many officers get away with coercing and assaulting sex workers because the women think that no one will believe them? How many departments overlook solicitation by their officers? Knowing what we know about how police protect their own, it doesn't seem too big of a stretch to imagine that much of this sort of thing simply gets swept under the rug.
And of course we also have evidence of these sorts of cover-ups. For instance, last year, Fort Smith, Arkansas, Sergeant Don Paul Bales was fired after raising concerns about another officer engaging in sex acts with a woman before arresting her for prostitution; the officer alleged of doing so is still employed by the department. In Minneapolis, three undercover cops whose names were released after allegations that they messed around with sex workers before arresting them are currently suing the city, county, and state of Minnesota for releasing their names.
The Cato Institute's Jonathan Blanks compiles an ongoing daily list of police misconduct reports. Peruse just a few pages on the National Police Misconduct Reporting Project site and you'll find a ridiculous number of rape, sexual assault, stalking, statutory rape, domestic violence, child pornography, and child molestation charges. A study from Cato found that sexual misconduct was the second highest of all complaints against police officers in 2010, representing 9.3 percent of all complaints. More than 350 of the 618 complaints involved non-consensual sexual acts, and over half involved minors.