Crime

Texas School District Prostitution Ring May Involve Children As Young As 11

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht

The FBI is investigating an underage prostitution ring in El Paso, Texas, which involves middle and high school students in the Ysleta Independent School District.

The announcement came one day after an arrest affidavit alleged that a 16-year-old Ysleta High School student was prostituted on the website, Backpage, offering sexual services to a YISD volunteer.

"At that time, the FBI requested that Ysleta High School officials not discuss the matter with anyone, including district administration," YISD said in a statement Tuesday. "After this meeting with the FBI, Ysleta High School officials were approached by the student for assistance with issues outside of the investigation that cannot be disclosed.”

Two suspected sex traffickers were arrested Monday, but the FBI did not say whether the case was related to the 16-year-old.

FBI officials would not say whether any other school district in the city is being investigated.

Officials at El Paso, Clint and Canutillo school districts said they had not been contacted by the FBI.

"Due to student confidentiality laws, the Ysleta Independent School District is prohibited from disclosing specific details of the alleged underage prostitution ring currently under investigation by the FBI," YISD officials said in a statement Monday. "However, officials at Ysleta High School were notified in December [of] 2012 that an investigation into underage prostitution was under way at local middle and high schools."

Superintendent Xavier De La Torre told the El Paso Times that he learned about the investigation from the newspaper.

"[I found out about the investigation] when I read it in your paper," De La Torre said. "There are no next steps. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and law enforcement have not made us aware of any details surrounding their investigation."

John Martin, executive director of the Paso del Norte Center of Hope, told the Tribune that young girls are especially vulnerable to sex trafficking.

"The average age for a young girl to be introduced to prostitution is between 12 and 13," Martin said. "And for boys, it is not much better; it is between 13 and 14. We let the students know they are being targeted."

“[The traffickers] look for vulnerabilities, which can be something as simple as being upset with your parents because they didn’t give you money for something you wanted, so you went out looking for additional cash,” he continued. “It could also be drug-related issues or many different things. When you look at a child, because of their age and maturity, they are much more vulnerable than an adult."

"It is very important that we target the students in elementary, middle and high school, and educate them on the dangers of sex trafficking and create preventative programs," he added. "By definition, the most vulnerable to being trafficked are the poor, young and the immigrant. And in many cases, these students fell into all three categories. So it is vital we reach out and educate our young children."

Sources: Salt Lake Tribune, El Paso Times