TAMPA (FOX 13) - The FBI rescued six victims of sex trafficking in a series of stings conducted in the Tampa Bay area. The operation is a nationwide effort that resulted in the arrest of 153 pimps.
"It's men, it's women, it's blue collar, it's white collar, the demand is coming from everywhere," said Natasha Nascimento, the head of Redefining Refuge, a safe house for victims of child sex.
Nascimento isn't at all surprised to hear six Bay Area teenagers, aged 14 to 17, were among the 149 rescued across the country in the FBI's latest sweep.
There were four girls and two boys, two of whom were transgendered.
"You get a 14-year-old girl who walks through the door, and the amount of torment (they have endured), you can just see it on their faces," Nascimento said.
The FBI caught the pimps and rescued the children by posing as customers and responding to online ads for prostitutes under 21.
"It's a lucrative effort on the parts of the pimps," said Dave Couvertier of the FBI's Tampa office. "They can make money. There are kids out there that basically are looking for someone to fill a void in their life, and the pimps know this."
Nascimento said the biggest challenge they face is convincing the child victims that they are better off without those who filled the voids of family and money, and who gave the illusion of safety.
"The majority of the children that I have seen come from histories of abuse, and so it has almost become their normal," Nascimento said. "We have to show them what normal really is."
Nascimento said part of combating child sex trafficking at the root is to call it what it is.
"No child can be a prostitute," she said. "A child can not consent. Prostitution to me implies choice. These are children that are being raped repeatedly every single day."
When it comes to the six pimps who were arrested in the Tampa bay area, the FBI is still determining which will face local or federal charges.