Going undercover to find sex trafficking victims

LIMA – On some nights, more than 80 sex acts are performed at various truck stops across the state. Many of those sex acts are performed by children, the victims of sex trafficking.

Sheriff Sam Crish of the Lima Police Department and his team travel to these truck stops on a weekly basis to help save trafficking victims from their terrible fate – and also capture the johns who control them.

Sitting in the back of a truck, undercover with the sheriff and his team, the radio chatter overheard is disturbing.

“I’ve got an addictive personality, I would go broke, need one three or four times a day,” said a trucker who could not be identified, about his need for sex.

With cameras covered in black tape to avoid being caught, the 13ABC Washington Bureau team waits, as the sheriff uses his phone to text women – asking them to come to the truck stop to perform a sex act in exchange for money.

It’s rare to witness a night like this, because many police departments aren’t willing to put resources into such a risky operation. But these officers say even if they save just one girl, it’s all worth it.

As cars pull in to the truck stop, another task force team waits in the parking lot, running license plates to check for previous offenses.

“Just about everyone that we have arrested, they are employed, good jobs, married, have families, so those are the individuals who are out there buying these young girls,” Crish said.

Crish says the crime is fueled by heroin and cocaine use, it’s on the rise, and he doesn’t see it going away, saying the girls he recovers are often desperate.

“It’s not just pick up a girl today, and she is going to be fixed tomorrow,” he said.

That’s because there’s so much underlying abuse and fear. Trafficked girls can be as young as eight years old.

“You find a lot of brokenness. A lot of hurt. A lot of mistrust. They don’t always want to work with me even or law enforcement or other social workers,” said Kristen Stopher, a sexual assault and human trafficking victim advocate.

Stopher often travels with the undercover team in case a trafficking victim is saved and needs assistance.

Undercover officers who work the sex trafficking unit say the crime is often a blame game.

“I have talked to a lot of people and they always say that this is a victimless crime and the thing I always say to that is I have interviewed thousands of girls and none of them has ever said they even wanted to do this,” said David Gillespie, a sergeant with the Lima Police Department.

On this particular night, no girls come to the truck stop, so the Washington team is unable to capture footage. But the trafficking task force is not dismayed – Crish and his team know they will do whatever it takes, until the early hours of the morning, to save these victims.

Stay tuned for the next part in the Sex Trafficking: Exposed series, airing tomorrow.

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