FBI, Partners Provide Compassion and Assistance to Child Victims
The FBI’s Operation Cross Country enforcement actions in recent years have highlighted the issue of commercial sexual exploitation of children. Contrary to what many people once thought, this is not just a problem involving young adults being moved from foreign countries into the U.S. It is a crisis that starts at home and can target any child of any social, economic, or racial background in our cities, suburbs, and rural areas.
At the heart of Operation Cross Country is a desire by the FBI’s employees and their partners on the Innocence Lost Task Forces to rescue these children from a life of violence and exploitation.
“There is no child—under any circumstance—who deserves to be sold for sex. Ever. My primary mission is to make sure that each child we recover is connected to supportive services that can address their emotional and physical well-being,” says Caroline Holmes, FBI Portland’s victim specialist. “They deserve the chance to be kids—to have dreams and aspirations and to be safe.”
The FBI’s Portland Division works with a host of social service providers to answer the need. Working together, they provide these children—and their families, when appropriate—with emergency assistance, counseling, health resources, and referrals to outside providers. Immediate life and safety needs come first with the end goal of providing the victim access to long-term resources to ensure long-term success.
Since the Operation Cross Country law enforcement actions began in 2009, the local social service providers in the Portland area have banded together in what is a model program for responding to the child victims of commercial sex exploitation. For instance, Multnomah County has set up a special unit within its Department of Human Services to address the issue. In addition, the county has generated a peer-to-peer sharing forum where advocates can collaborate and develop the most effective response tools.
Another example: the Sexual Assault Resource Center (SARC) of Oregon is responding to the crisis with specially trained and dedicated advocates who work specifically with children who have been exploited. SARC advocates provide immediate intervention, affording confidential advocacy and case management to exploited boys and girls in the Portland metro area.
In 2011, Janus Youth Program opened the area’s first shelter, Athena’s House, specifically for commercially exploited children. Athena’s House is one of only a few shelters nationwide that works solely with this population.
“These are our kids,” says Victim Specialist Holmes. “They deserve our attention, our help, and our compassion. We do everything that we can for them.”
If you suspect that a child is being sexually exploited, please call your nearest FBI office or local law enforcement agency immediately.