FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 20, 2005
MAYOR BLOOMBERG ANNOUNCES "OPERATION GUARDIAN" TO COMBAT THE SEXUAL EXPLOITATION OF CHILDREN
Queens Pilot Program to Target Pimps and Provide Housing and Services to Exploited Children
Mayor Bloomberg today announced Operation Guardian, a new initiative that will enhance the prosecution of pimps who lure children into prostitution and provide critical, around-the-clock services to their victims. The pilot program will include a dedicated prosecutorial and investigative team within the Queens District Attorney's Office, a partnership with the Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention (SAVI) program to provide twenty-four hour support and the development of a new residential placement facility dedicated to providing shelter and services to victims of commercial sexual exploitation. Operation Guardian was developed by a multi-agency task force chaired by the Mayor's Office of the Criminal Justice Coordinator. Queens County District Attorney Richard A. Brown, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, Criminal Justice Coordinator John Feinblatt, and SAVI Director Iona Siegel joined the Mayor at the office of the Queens District Attorney for the announcement.
"The sexual exploitation of children is a horrible crime that causes physical and emotional damage which can never be undone," said Mayor Bloomberg. "To go after the criminals who exploit children, we need the cooperation of their victims - which means getting them the help they need so that they can break away from those who exploit them. Operation Guardian will get pimps off the streets and in jail, and get their victims the help they need."
"In my view there can be no public safety issue more compelling than the sexual exploitation of children in organized prostitution," said District Attorney Brown. "Law enforcement, government and the social service community must take every step possible to prevent such victimization of children and rescue those trapped in its snare from a human bondage that destroys their innocence, hope and dreams."
The commercial sexual exploitation of children has been the focus of increased attention throughout the nation and in New York City. Last year, 150 children under the age of seventeen were arrested for prostitution in the City; 53 of them were in Queens. Despite increasing awareness of the problem, successfully investigating and prosecuting cases against pimps remains a challenge for law enforcement, chiefly due to the vulnerability of their victims. Pimps typically exercise a powerful influence over the children they recruit and exploit, many of whom are homeless and/or runaways, and are also vulnerable to physical and mental illness, substance abuse, and violence. Operation Guardian will address these complex issues comprehensively.
The first component of Operation Guardian is a new team within the office of the Queens County District Attorney that will, for the first time, attack the business of child prostitution and those who perpetrate it. Using dedicated legal and support staff, the team will take investigative and enforcement techniques that have proven successful against other criminal enterprises and apply them to pimps who exploit children for profit. To begin with, working with the NYPD, the team will develop a detailed picture of the child prostitution business in Queens. By conducting intensive surveillance and by responding 24 hours a day to de-brief children arrested for prostitution offenses, the team will gather information about who the pimps are and how they operate. Next, the team will use that intelligence to craft enforcement strategies such as undercover "john" operations, search warrants, and wiretaps that will result in strong criminal prosecutions. Finally, the team will supplement these efforts by focusing on the financial underpinnings of child prostitution. Team members will analyze financial records in order to develop criminal tax evasion and money laundering cases against pimps, and seize their illegal profits through forfeiture.
"The Police Department is devoting the expertise and resources to go after the real villains: the adults who profit by the exploitation and abuse of minors," said Commissioner Kelly.
The second component is a new partnership with the SAVI program starting July 1 that will provide around-the-clock support to sexually exploited children who cooperate with prosecutions. In Queens, certified crisis intervention counselors from the SAVI program will be on call to meet with child victims at hospitals or police stations at any time of the day or night. Counselors will provide safety planning, referrals to emergency shelter and re-location services, and advocacy with child welfare and other government agencies. They will also provide ongoing support and accompany victims when they appear as witnesses in ongoing criminal prosecutions.
The third component is the development of a new residential placement facility located outside New York City dedicated to the care, protection, and rehabilitation of victims of child prostitution. In partnership with the State, the City has received a federal grant to develop a therapeutic alternative for girls who have been placed in State custody following an arrest for prostitution. Currently, girls are scattered in multiple facilities throughout the State which are not properly equipped to protect them against the pimps who might try to recruit them back to the street, or prepared to make the intensive efforts required to re-establish ties to supportive family members. The new facility, expected to be opened later this year, will bring victims together under one roof and provide increased security, serving as a safe haven to protect sexually exploited girls from pimps and to wean them away from life on the streets. Specifically tailored services will include individual counseling, group therapy, medical services, education, and a commitment to re-establishing positive family relationships. Once established, the house will also provide a secure and supportive setting for those girls who are preparing to testify against pimps in criminal prosecutions.
Operation Guardian was developed by a multi-agency task force chaired by the Mayor's Office of the Criminal Justice Coordinator. The task force consists of representatives from the New York City Police Department, the City's District Attorneys, the Administration for Children's Services, the New York City Law Department, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Legal Aid Society, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Education, the Office of Children and Family Services, and non-profit social service providers.
"The sexual exploitation of children is a complex problem that demands a complex solution," said John Feinblatt. "But one thing is undeniably true - any effective response must integrate law enforcement and social services. If you want to take care of the pimps, then you also have to take care of their victims. The task force that we have been convening clearly understands this, and the initiative they have helped develop is a major step forward in accomplishing that goal."
Edward Skyler / Robert Lawson (212) 788-2958
Paul Browne (DCPI) (646) 610-6700
Patrick Clark (Queens District Attorney's Office)
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