Pasco police arrested seven people for prostitution or for promoting prostitution during a nationwide FBI sex trafficking operation.
The operation rescued five children, arrested 14 people and contacted 67 adults exploited by prostitution in Washington, said Ayn Dietrich-Williams, an FBI public affairs specialist based in Seattle.
Five woman were arrested for prostitution and one was also booked for possession of methamphetamine, according to Franklin County Deputy Prosecutor Maureen Astley. James Edward Donaldson Jr. and Leah Jo Stevensking were arrested for second-degree promotion of prostitution.
No children involved in the sex trade were found in the Tri-Cities.
Not all juveniles who are used are found by authorities, and in some cases, the victims may not understand they are being trafficked for sex. JoDee Garretson, executive director at the Support Advocacy Resource Center in Kennewick, said she has seen several cases where minors are trafficked by parents.
“They don’t necessarily recognize that they are the victim, and they do deserve help,” Garretson said.
The arrests in Pasco are part of Operation Cross Country, which consists of 74 child exploitation task forces working with more than 400 law enforcement agencies throughout the country, all coordinated by the FBI. This is the 10th year Operation Cross Country has been conducted.
“Operation Cross Country aims to shine a spotlight into the darkest corners of our society that seeks to prey on the most vulnerable of our population,” FBI Director James Comey said.
Between Oct. 13-15, agencies coordinated operations in Pasco, Spokane, Airway Heights, Bellevue, Everett, Kent, Lakewood, Tukwila, and King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties.
“We are not only looking to root out those who engage in the trafficking of minors, but offer a lifeline to minors to help them escape from a virtual prison no person ever deserves,” Comey said.
Since sex traffickers operate in Washington, Oregon and Nevada, investigations that span all three states give police better chances of finding victims at any given moment, Dietrich-Williams said.
Once investigators contact adults, their first goal is to learn more about where sex traffickers may keep children. Many victims may not consider themselves as being in a harmful situation, or think of traffickers as family or a means to get resources.
“They believe their pimp is their only way to get access to clothing, food and housing,” Dietrich-Williams said.
Anyone who suspects someone may be a victim of sex trafficking can call the police or the Support Advocacy Resource Center at 509-374-5391.