Social media are a common denominator in many of the rescues.
"We are seeing it more and more, kids being put out on the street and being trafficked because of the Internet," said Detective Angela Irizarry of the Hayward Police Department, not far from San Francisco. "Many of these kids come from runaway or group homes and they feel like this is the only way for them to survive on the street."
She said her department identified three girls, ages 15, 16 and 17 and a woman seen dropping off two of the girls was arrested as a pimp. One of the girls was a runaway, another had been missing from a group home for several months and a third ran away off and on from her family's home, Irizarry said. The detective said she had not had a chance to speak with the girls and does not know how long they had been involved in prostitution, but that one of them "is denying any involvement of the individuals we had arrested for pimping. That is typical. Usually these girls don't immediately give up their pimps."
Irizarry said a multi-agency, cross-country effort was necessary because local police departments do not always have the resources to investigate tips about child sex trafficking.
Last year, five members of the Underground Gangster Crips contacted teens at school or through Facebook, DateHookUp.com or other online social networking sites, enticing the girls to use their looks to earn money through prostitution.
As for websites, Liz McDougall, the general counsel for Backpage.com, said that if that site were shut down to the advertisements in question, the information that can lead to the rescues would be lost to law enforcement because the ads would be pushed to "offshore uncooperative websites."