According to the Child Obscenity and Exploitation section of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), sexual exploitation and trafficking of youth in the United States are problems of "epidemic proportions." The majority of young American victims of commercial sexual exploitation, according to one DOJ report, tend to be "runaway or thrown away" youth who live on the streets and who become victims of prostitution. These children "generally come from homes where they have been abused, or from families that have abandoned them. They often become involved in prostitution as a way to support themselves financially or to get the things they want or need."
About one-fifth of these children, according to DOJ:
[B]ecome entangled in nationally- organized crime networks and are trafficked nationally. They are transported around the United States by a variety of means – cars, buses, vans, trucks or planes, and are often provided counterfeit identification to use in the event of arrest. The average age at which girls first become victims of prostitution is 12-14. It is not only the girls on the streets that are affected -- for boys and transgender the average age of entry into prostitution is 11-13.
Of course, the "prolife" movement--so worried about women, girls, fetuses, black babies, the "pain" inflicted on women by abortion, etc--is deeply concerned about these children, right?
In what is perhaps one of the most craven actions of a craven movement, anti-choice scam artists apparently affiliated with Live Action Films and Lila Rose of undercover "gotcha film-fame" appear to have attempted to perpetrate an "Acorn-like" hoax on Planned Parenthood Federation of America by sending people into Planned Parenthood health centers in six states and posing as traffickers seeking health care for young girls who were "part" of their supposed sex trafficking rings.
In response, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder describing the visits and asking for an investigation.
In a statement, PPFA said:
Last week, Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) alerted federal authorities to a potential multistate sex trafficking ring. Over a five day period, visitors to Planned Parenthood health centers in six states said they were seeking information from Planned Parenthood about health services Planned Parenthood could provide to underage girls who were part of a sex trafficking ring. Subsequent to alerting U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Planned Parenthood learned the identify of one of those involved and believes these visits are likely a hoax by opponents of legal abortion seeking to discredit Planned Parenthood, which delivers preventive health care and abortion services to three million women each year.
PPFA reports that men, sometimes accompanied by a woman, "visited at least 11 Planned Parenthood health centers in six states within a one-week time frame." The visits were made between January 11th and January 15th to health centers in Virginia, Indiana, New York, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and Arizona. "Among them was a clinic in Tucson, Ariz., which Planned Parenthood said was visited on the 15th, a week after [emphasis added] the shooting rampage in that city that critically injured Congresswman Gabrielle Giffords.
During their visits, they claimed to be involved in sex trafficking of teens, some of whom are in the United States illegally. These men appeared at health centers without appointments and said that they were seeking health services for themselves, but they quickly turned the conversation to the sex ring they said they were managing.
David Crary of the The Associated Press writes that in each case, according to Planned Parenthood, "the man sought to speak privately with a clinic employee and then [once alone with the employee] requested information about health services for sex workers, including some who he said were minors and in the U.S. illegally."
One of the men involved in these visits has now been identified using video tapes at the clinics, and he appears to be "associated with or influenced by Live Action."
The pattern of these visits and the highly unusual nature of the information being shared with staff lends credibility to the possibility that these multistate visits are part of this organization’s ongoing effort to ”bring down” Planned Parenthood, a nearly 100-year-old organization with more than 800 health centers from coast to coast. Live Action is associated with James O’Keefe, the conservative activist who was arrested for attempting to wiretap the offices of Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.
AP reports that Rose, Live Action's founder and president, declined to confirm or deny that the clinic visits were part of a Live Action operation, but did indicate in a telephone interview with AP that an undercover videotape project of some sort was in the works. In December, Crary writes, Live Action announced that it was preparing to launch several major new investigations during 2011 and said it had received a $125,000 gift to finance the operations. It did not identify the source of that gift.
Stuart Schear, Vice President of Communications at Planned Parenthood, said:
“When Planned Parenthood learns of an operation that exploits young women, we vigilantly work with law enforcement authorities to uncover and stop this abhorrent activity. Planned Parenthood’s top priority is the health and safety of our patients and the health and well-being of women and teens across the country, and we have been in contact with federal and local authorities to identify the persons involved in these visits.”
“If a multistate sex trafficking operation is in place," he continued, "those responsible must be pursued to stop the exploitation of girls and young women. If these visits are part of a ‘dirty tricks’ campaign, they must be condemned. Falsely claiming sex trafficking to health professionals to advance a political agenda is an astoundingly cynical form of political activity."
Yes. Astoundingly cynical. Put aside for a moment the ridiculous proposition that suddenly, out of nowhere, a multi-state effort by sex traffickers pops up openly seeking health care for victims of their crimes, i.e. youth entrapped in a virtual cycle of slavery, abuse, and exploitation at the hands of the traffickers themselves. What purpose does such a hoax serve? Does it help to clarify for policymakers, the media, and potentially engaged constituencies the problems of sex trafficking in the United States? Assist in identifying victims of sex trafficking? Focus on reducing the violence to which street children are exposed? Exam the policies and conditions that might exacerbate sex trafficking of minors? Help get victims of sex trafficking urgently needed medical care, shelter, legal help? Victims of sex trafficking after all, also need sexual health services because, for example, they are more likely to contract sexually transmitted infections. Does this help them get treatment?
It's not about the victims of actual crimes. It's not about helping young girls and boys caught in a cycle of abandonment, abuse, violence and poverty. It's not about "life."
What is it about? A craven agenda of ideology and lies supported by a full-time anti-choice industry and countless federal and state lawmakers who appear to have nothing better to do than to write one after another laws to restrict women's fundamental human rights.
The goal, according to Rose, is to "unnerve Planned Parenthood employees and eventually put them out of business."
"We will work to de-fund them in every state wherever it is possible, to de-license them and to expose them," she told the conservative Value Voters Summit in October.
"The other part of it, too, is to create controversy within the organization, keep them on their toes," she said. "We need to help them feel that fear."
Given the unmet need for health care generally in this county, and for unmet sexual and reproductive health care particularly, Rose surely could have picked a more noble goal. Planned Parenthood operates more than 800 health centers across the country, and serves some 3 million clients a year with a range of voluntary health and family planning services. The centers provided women with 324,008 legal abortions in 2008, about one-fourth of the national total.
What is the point of a "sting" operation if the goal is just to get the "sting?" How does the work of these scam artists help anyone, much less the victims of child trafficking?