Traci Tamura, CNN Producer
In April of this year, the Oceanside Police Department in California led an 18-month multi-agency investigation that resulted in the indictment of 38 suspected Crips gang members, their alleged associates and two hotel owners. The indictment asserts that the Oceanside Crips organization was “engaged in a variety of illegal activities, including but not limited to the prostitution of minors and adult females, attempted murder, robbery, and narcotics trafficking.”
After hearing about this case, Thelma Gutierrez and I set out to delve into the world of traditional street gangs moving into the world of prostitution and sex trafficking as part of the CNN Freedom Project’s initiative to End Modern Day Slavery. And what we found was eye-opening.
We headed to the coastal community of Oceanside,California to talk with some law enforcement officials who were part of the investigation. They described the Oceanside Crips gang as a sophisticated "enterprise" that brought formerly warring Crips gang members together in the business of prostitution and sex trafficking. Authorities say the gangs were drawn in by the potentially huge profits from using the Internet to exploit their female victims – some of whom were minors – and from forcing the women to sell themselves online for sex.
According to law enforcement, the Internet has become such a portal for sex trafficking that it’s moving prostitution off the street corners to the underground world of cyberspace. One local police official told us how challenging this type of crime is to enforce when you can’t visually see it. Also, with the budget constraints most cities face, police simply don't have the staffing to dedicate officers to just sit on a computer and monitor the activity on a daily basis.
When reporting our story, we spent some time with "Jessica”, who is a former prostitute, who had a gang member as her pimp. She told us her "Guerilla" pimp - one who controls his prostitutes by intimidation and physical abuse – raped her when she first came into contact with him and that she was treated like a modern-day slave. "Jessica" revealed how she lived in constant fear for her life and was forced to prostitute herself just to survive. She told us how she was made to post ads selling herself online, and how all it took to book a "date" at a local hotel room was a simple click of a key and a phone call to a prepaid cell phone. It's all done anonymously. The women never even having to leave their hotel rooms to make their average quote of $1,000 to $3,000 dollars a day. But the girls never saw a penny of the "donations" they earned. Instead, they simply worked to be fed, avoid beatings and stay alive.
Luckily, "Jessica" finally escaped with a couple other girls, after convincing one of their "customers" that their lives were in danger. The customer finally agreed to help them. He kept his word to take them to another hotel, but he still got his "payment" in sex before he allowed the girls to call the police. "Jessica" is now free from what she describes as a life of being a sex slave. And with the help of support groups – like the San Diego-based Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition – she is currently rebuilding her life and her relationship with her mother. But “Jessica” says still worries about all the other vulnerable women and girls who remain enslaved by their pimps.