Girl rescued, 30 arrested in human trafficking operation, reads the headline. It's the kind of headline that Americans have gotten used to seeing these days, and the kind that gives the impression of a coordinated, wide-reaching sex-trafficking ring busted. Another media outlet offered the even more lurid headline "Sex Slaves in Compton." But press beyond the headline, and you'll see that the "human traffickers" arrested were actually women selling sex themselves, along with men attempting to buy sex from an undercover police officer. Like most "human trafficking operations" these days, this was a vice sting dressed up in lofty and hysterical language.
The sting, carried out as part of the Los Angeles Regional Human Trafficking Task Force, took place in Compton, an area where more than a quarter of residents are living in poverty, according to U.S. census data, and the violent crime rate—while down from its peak in the early '90s—is still a hotbed of unsolved homicides.
But the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has priorities. Like the arrest of 17 men for talking to undercover deputies and 13 women for trying to make a living. And the impounding of 16 vehicles.
For this important "human trafficking" bust, local law enforcement officials were aided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The same week, DHS helped Santa Barbara, California, arrest 14 (mostly young and Hispanic) men for attempting to purchase sexual services from people they thought were adult sex workers.
For the record, Homeland Security's stated mission is to "prevent terrorism… secure and manage our borders… enforce and administer our immigration laws… safeguard and secure cyberspace… and ensure resilience to disasters." Which one of these does arresting vulnerable populations for consenting sexual relations fall under, again?