Regarding our inclination to send cops to "rescue" victims of trafficking:
Oakland is currently in the middle of a sex scandal after investigations by the Express revealed that at least fourteen Oakland Police officers, three Richmond Police officers, and four Alameda County Sheriff's deputies were sexually involved with a sex worker, who traded sexual favors for protection, with at least three of these "relationships" occurring before she was 18: http://m.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/the-real-reason-why-oakland-fired-its-police-chief/Content?oid=4826701#
When police criminalize sex workers, sex workers can't depend on them for their safety. As a result, sex workers are forced to choose between taking their chances in a criminalized environment or doing what they can to curry favor with officers. Due to the limited resources available to street workers, many times the only thing they can give is sex. Because of the number of minors who turn to the streets to work, it's unsurprising that a number of these sexual trades for protection between sex workers and officers occur with under-age sex workers. It's unlikely that this sensational case is the only one.
Until sex workers can depend on police for help and protection like any other resident, this sort of abuse will continue happening, unchecked.
The criminalized status of sex workers (even if they're minors in some jurisdictions)
denies them the ability to come forward, but despite this, we've been seeing more and more cases:
Oklahoma officer Daniel Holtzclaw used his access to records to target women with priors (many for sex work), who he then forced to perform sexual services under threat of violence or jail. At least 13 women came forward to testify against him: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/nov/27/oklahoma-officer-daniel-holtzclaw-trial-defense-attacks-credibility-of-vulnerable-black-women
San Antonio police officers Alejandro Chapa, Emmanuel Galindo, and Aaron Alford, lured economically vulnerable women into a sex ring telling them their cooperation was crucial for a sting they were conducting and promising $5,000 per day. They had sex with them, passed them around, never gave them any money: http://m.mysanantonio.com/news/local/crime/article/Former-SAPD-officers-accused-of-tricking-women-7378596.php
West Sacramento officer Sergio Alvarez kidnapped and assaulted sex workers on the strip he patrolled on late-night duty. At least eight came forward to testify at his trial: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/81f32b4c5a29434684b70830bfc1f09b/ap-officer-sex-cases-plagued-lax-supervision-policies
Bakersfield police deputy David Keith Rogers murdered at least two sex workers in Kern County, and perhaps one other, though we'll never know how many ultimately suffered at his hands. The California Supreme Court upheld his death sentence a few years ago: https://johnhartephoto.wordpress.com/2014/12/10/a-deputy-land-on-death-row/
I could go on for days. Instead, there's numbers. In a survey of Chicago sex workers by the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP), 25 percent of sex workers identified their rapist as a police officer.
Police are consistently identified as a threat to sex workers across the country. A survey of New York street-based sex workers found 27 percent had suffered violence at the hands of cops.
A paper published in 2010 focusing on sex workers in the Washington D.C. area noted that in 104 interactions between sex workers and law enforcement, almost 10 percent of sex workers involved said they had been assaulted by officers and 17 percent said that cops had requested sexual favors.
The risk of being assaulted for sex workers varies dramatically from country to country, but it has an intimate connection with the legal system. In the U.S., where prostitution is criminalized, sex workers are 40 times more likely to suffer assault than in the United Kingdom where sex work is not criminalized.
The risk of clamping down on prostitution can be significant, with Norway experiencing a rise in assaults against sex workers of 50 percent since the purchase of sex was criminalized (called the "Nordic Model" or "End Demand") in 2009. (Source for all numbers above: http://dailycaller.com/2015/11/30/illegality-cops-and-johns-why-american-prostitutes-are-400-times-more-likely-to-die-on-the-job/
A year-long Associated Press investigation illuminated the problem of rape and sexual misconduct against all residents, not only sex workers, committed by law officers in the United States, uncovering about 1,000 cops, jail guards, deputies and others who lost their licenses from 2009 through 2014 for such incidents. There are most certainly even more than that, because some states did not provide records and others, including New York and California, said they do not decertify officers for what they classify as "misconduct."
The International Association of Chiefs of Police spotlighted the problem of sex abuse by officers in a 2011 report that said certain conditions of the job may help create opportunities for officers to take advantage of victims -- having authority over others, patrolling alone and late at night, and engaging with vulnerable citizens.
This is why sex workers are such an easy and frequent target. What's happening in Oakland may be sensational enough to make national news but this happens every day, especially with youth engaged in sex work.
The book _Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking: Beyond Victims and Villains_ by researcher Alexandra Lutnick elaborates on this at some length. Sex work by people under 18 is not criminalized federally, but states and cities all have their own laws about this, so that ends up not being the case in practice. Here in California, only L.A. doesn't treat minors as criminals.
Lutnick's research revealed that it's common for youth in sex work to experience violence more often from law enforcement officials than from any other group of people, including clients and pimps. Her findings reflect surveys done over the years by sex workers rights and youth advocacy organizations in the U.S.
In the worst cases, this violence takes the form of physical and sexual assault. Lutnick reports on one incident in which an underage transgender woman in New Orleans was forced to have oral sex with a police officer in order to avoid arrest, and another in which an underage cisgender worker was forced to fondle an officer.
Kristen DiAngelo, the executive director of the Sex Worker Outreach Project (SWOP) Sacramento has spoken on the pervasiveness of police abuse toward youth in sex work. She worked in a massage parlor when she was in high school in the 1970s and early 1980s. She told the New Republic:
“There was this team, two police officers [ ... ] They’d come over and pick me up and they would take turns doing that with all the girls all over town, they'd take you out to the field, have sex with you [ ... ] They’d dump you out in the field, it was surrounded by farmland and you had to figure out a way to hitchhike back in.”
In 2015, SWOP Sacramento interviewed 44 sex workers in the area. They reported similar police abuses. Nothing has changed. There's still no accountability.
Jenny Heineman, a sociologist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas worked with the federally funded Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children program, in collaboration with research teams across the U.S. “More than half of the young people I interviewed stated that they regularly perform sex acts for police officers in exchange for their not being arrested,” she told the New Republic.
The devastating irony of this is that because cops pose such a threat to sex workers, many -- especially youth -- gravitate toward pimps in search of protection. As Lutnick reports in her book, because police are so predatory, actual victims of sexual exploitation seldom have the kind of interactions with them that enable them to leave abusive situations.
Leah Albright-Byrd, a survivor of sex trafficking, told her, "I was exploited from 14 to 18, and in four years I did not have one encounter with law enforcement that could have led to my escape from my exploiter." (Source: https://newrepublic.com/article/128028/child-sex-workers-biggest-threat-police
Indeed, a 2009 study by the Young Women’s Empowerment Project in Chicago that interviewed youth involved in trading sex concluded, "Police often accuse girls in the sex trade of lying or don't believe them when they turn to the police for help." (Source: https://ywepchicago.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/girls-do-what-they-have-to-do-to-survive-a-study-of-resilience-and-resistance.pdf
We need to stop
throwing cops at this problem. At least until we can create some checks and balances, make the process transparent, and make cops answerable to the public.
The problem is definitely compounded by how badly we've defined "trafficking." At least one state punishes "self-trafficking" as a felony right now (meaning sex workers are slapped with a criminal record that prevents them joining the workforce, effectively locking them into the informal economy of sex work). Other jurisdictions target as traffickers anyone who may be working with a sex worker in some capacity -- a driver, a body guard, another sex worker, making it hard for sex workers to create systems of harm-reduction.
In Alaska, a woman who did safety screening of sex workers' potential clients was convicted of felony trafficking and sent to prison for five and a half years: https://storify.com/avflox/the-sentencing-of-amber-batts
As things are in the U.S., any efforts by sex workers to come together to avoid exploitation by pimps, traffickers, clients and police are subject to criminalization as "trafficking." The takeaway message is that selling sex is so detrimental to the community that harm-reduction efforts by sex workers do not matter. This makes sex workers significantly more vulnerable to predatory clients and traffickers -- especially youth, who are ostracized by adult sex workers, and pushed into more dangerous areas to avoid legal liability.