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Undercover sting targets Federal Way pimps, underage prostitutes

Earlier this month, Federal Way police participated in an undercover operation focused on getting juvenile prostitutes off the street and putting their pimps behind bars.

"Our goal is to get them out of the life," Federal Way police Lt. Casey Jones said.

The multi-jurisdictional operation, known as Operation Cross Country V, included the FBI's Innocence Lost Task Force, Homeland Security Investigations and other agencies. Prostitution is dangerous for the women involved and gives the city where the crime takes place a bad image, Jones said.

The sting happened in approximately 40 locations across the country in the early weeks of November, according to a Nov. 8 FBI news release. The goal of the enterprise was not to throw the juveniles into jail, but rather to identify the person whom they were working for and take action to stop that person from forcing the underage girls to peddle sex for money, Jones said.

According to the FBI release, 69 underage prostitutes were recovered and nearly 885 others, including 99 pimps, were arrested on state and local charges.

"Child prostitution continues to be a significant problem in our country, as evidenced by the number of children rescued through the continued efforts of our crimes against children task forces," said Shawn Henry, executive assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal, Cyber, Response and Services Branch. "There is no work more important than protecting America’s children and freeing them from the cycle of victimization. Through our strategic partnerships with state and local law enforcement agencies, we are able to make a difference."

Pacific Highway South

Federal Way's sting centered around Pacific Highway South from South 260th Street to South 288th Street. The area is known for its highly visible prostitution problem. Police identified the prostitutes in ways that customers typically do, Jones said.

"We're going to the same places a customer would go," he said.

In total, seven juvenile prostitutes were picked up. Several adult women working the streets were also questioned about whether they knew of underage girls performing sexual acts for money.

One of the juveniles contacted by police was a bottom girl. This is a term typically given to a prostitute who trains others in her profession and has the responsibility of collecting money from them and passing it onto the pimp, according to Wikipedia.com. The juvenile told police she was 15 and had been working the streets since she was 12, Jones said. Police have contacted her more than 50 times since she began selling herself, he said.

Locating hustlers

With the exception of the bottom girl, who would not cooperate with police and was transported to jail, the young women were taken to the police station and interviewed by the FBI. The agency is interested in identifying the juveniles' pimps, who are generally adult men, Jones said. One lead provided by a young woman is looking promising, he said.

"Most of the time, they're not out there working for themselves," Jones said.

The FBI provided social service personnel to help the girls escape street life. The agency is ensuring the young women remain safe after having spoken with police and federal agents, Jones said.

Dangerous lifestyle

The life of a prostitute is a risky one. Besides exposing themselves to sexually transmitted diseases and infections, the women are sometimes involved in drugs or are assaulted by their pimps, Jones said.

"It's dangerous on so many different levels," he said.

This is illustrated in the recent homicides of at least two local prostitutes. On Aug. 31, Des Moines police found Jennifer L. Walstrand, 28, deceased in her apartment in the 2400 block of 25th Avenue South, near Highline Community College. Walstrand had a history of prostitution and police have ruled her death a homicide. They believe her killer may have been one of her customers. Walstrand suffered several stab wounds and blunt force trauma to the head.

Melissa Ann Marshall, 36, was another local prostitute whose lifestyle got her into trouble. On Aug. 21, 2001, Marshall was high on cocaine, methamphetamine and under the influence of alcohol. She was lured by three teenage boys, who promised drugs in return for sex, to Kent's Lake Fenwick Park, according to a 2003 Seattle PI article titled "Detoured lives come to brutal ends." One of the teens raped Marshall before two of the boys stabbed her 90 times and left her to die.

Walstrand and Marshall are examples of what can happen to the young girls picked up during the Innocence Lost sting if they are not removed from their situation, Jones said. The girls, despite their young age, are performing many of the same acts, sexual and other, as their older counterparts, he said. They are taking big risks regardless of the potential consequences.

"We need to get them off the street and into a safe place," Jones said.

Check it out

Across Washington state, 23 juvenile prostitutes were contacted as part of the undercover Operation Cross Country V. Twenty-six adult prostitutes were questioned about their knowledge of underage women selling sexual acts for money. Nine pimps were identified, Jones said.

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