Task forces of local, state and federal law enforcement officers are starting to view what was once seen as run-of-the-mill prostitution as possible sex trafficking, NPR reports. With funding from the Justice Department, agencies are starting to work together to identify and rescue sex trafficking victims and arrest their pimps. The new approach is being hailed by victims of trafficking and their advocates as a much-needed paradigm shift; the FBI says it is reaping results. Ron Riggin, a Maryland State Police sergeant who retired from a career spent searching for missing children and runaways, has been aware of the problem for some time, but just hasn’t had the resources or cooperation to effectively combat it. The infusion of support and coordination from the feds, he says, has been a game changer.
“At this point, there’s a federal task force that covers just about every state in the union, as far as I know, so that makes it easy for us when we have interstate cases,” Riggin said uring a Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force sting operation near Baltimore. To tackle the problem, the task force regularly peruses online escort ads, conducts stings, and offers services and support to the women they encounter. Some sex worker advocates say that the approach is throwing the net too wide and leading to arrests of too many women who are in control of their situations. Still, since 2008, task forces like the one Riggin is a part of have recovered more than 2,700 sexually trafficked children and convicted more than 1,350 pimps.