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Some rescue: The FBI’s dubious war on street girls

The FBI recently announced with great fanfare that it had “rescued” 105 youth and arrested 150 “pimps” for prostitution in 76 cities, including Boston, Denver, and San Francisco. The three-day raid, dubbed “Operation Cross Country,” was the largest in a decade-long FBI initiative aimed at what they called the persistent threat of child prostitution. But if you look closely, the FBI’s rescues look less like real heroism, and more like a photo op.

First of all, the people rescued weren’t small children. They were almost teens, girls and young women, 13 to 17 years old. According to the FBI’s lead investigator, virtually all “come from runaway or group homes, and they feel like this [prostitution] is the only way for them to survive on the street.”

Second, the girls would almost certainly not characterize what was happening as a “rescue.” Images on the video accompanying the FBI’s press release showed girls in handcuffs.

For centuries, law enforcement has sought to eliminate prostitution, often incarcerating young women for long terms for “sexual immorality” or “for their own protection.” Now, they are being “rescued” and offered services of dubious quality that typically involve social stigma and detention. 

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