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A Guide for Mothers, Grandmothers, and Others
for Helping a Girl Caught in Prostitution
or Sex Trafficking

Part 3 ~ Making the Police Report


How to Get a Better or Best Response from Police
Making the Police Report When You Have Information About Where Your Daughter Is or With Whom She's Staying
Making the Police Report When You Don't Know Where Your Daughter Is

Police and other law enforcement officials have enormous powers to help you. They can immediately arrest anyone who has taken or is keeping your daughter out of your custody without your permission - whether or not there is prostitution going on. They can set up investigations and stings on suspected pimps. If they can't prove pimping, they can often arrest these people for other offenses such as assaults, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and a host of other crimes. Police can also arrest the johns who solicit minors on any one of a number of felony sex crimes. They can immediately assign detectives when there is any reason to believe a child under 18 years of age is being prostituted, since prostituting a minor is a very serious form of child sex abuse. They can pull in the even more powerful resources of federal law enforcement agencies to work with them on suspected child prostitution. Police can also initiate missing person investigations, and much more.

There is so much police can and should do to help any youngster who may be being prostituted, and to get the pimps and johns who target her off the street. The problem is that too many police still have many of the same backward and sexist attitudes as the rest of society. If a girl is being prostituted, rather than treating the case with all the seriousness of organized serial rape of a child, too many officers see the girl as a 'bad girl', and all too many such officers are just as likely to arrest her, ignore her, or treat her abusively. In fact, just the fact that a juvenile can be arrested for prostitution indicates how conflicted our whole society is about this horrible crime against children.

Because of the extremes in the way different police view prostitution, you might encounter police officers who don't care, who brush you off, and in the end, refuse to give you the urgent, competent help you desperately need. So we start this section off by giving you some tips about how to get a better or best response from law enforcement.

How to Get a Better or Best Response from Police

Before Going to Police:

  • Start by reminding yourself that you have the right to the best possible police response. There are very few situations more serious and more deserving of a full law enforcement response than the case of a minor possibly caught in prostitution or any other form of sexual exploitation.

  • Remind yourself that even if one officer in a police department treats you badly, it doesn't mean all officers in the department have the same attitude. Remember, there's a big shift taking place in people's thinking towards an understanding that child prostitutes are victims, not criminals, so it's not surprising that officers in the same department may have a whole range of responses. Don't give up just because the first officer's response wasn't good.

  • Understand that police have many powers and possibilities for helping you. There are many laws police can use to arrest the pimps, johns, and others who are abusing your daughter, and to protect your daughter. Child custody laws, child abuse laws, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and, of course, all the laws against pimping and buying sex from a child, and more. So if police can't make a case on one charge, they should explore the possibility of other charges. There are also many federal laws and federal law enforcement agencies that can help you, too. We give more specific information and examples further on.

  • If you have time before going to police, take a piece of paper and write down a list of the main points of information and evidence you want to give police. In particular, start with a list of the most convincing evidence you have that you're daughter may be being prostituted. Even if you're dealing with a helpful police officer it's so easy to forget important facts in the emotion of talking to police. Your written lists will help you present a coherent picture to police, and that, in turn, will encourage police to do their best. And if you remember things later after making the report, do not hesitate to call the officer back, or go back in to the station to add to the report. Bring a picture of your daughter when you make the report.

Making the report:

  • Always, always, always, try to have a good friend with you when you make the police report, and at every other contact you have with police and other officials. It doesn't have to be the same person every time. But it is crucial that officials know there is another person beside you watching what they do, and that officials also know that other people in the community care about what happens to the girl. If your friend is willing to take out a pen and notebook and take notes on what the officer is saying, that's the most effective of all.

  • Tell your story as simply, clearly, and steadily as you can. Watch the officer to see if he or she is really listening and understanding. A key point in making your initial report is going to be convincing the officer, as you are convinced, that your daughter is likely being prostituted. Give the officer as much evidence as you can, as concisely as you can. Remember, the police need more than your hunch or suspicion. So if your daughter's friends said your daughter is being prostituted, tell the officer what the friends said, along with the friends' names and as much contact information as you have. If your daughter's been seen leaving school with an older man, tell this to the officer along with the name of the person who has seen it, etc. This is where your written prepared list of leads and evidence will be extremely helpful.

  • The officer should be taking notes on what you're saying. Ask the officer what kind of crime report or missing persons report he or she is writing. Ask the officer for the Case Report Number. Write it down! Ask the officer who will be investigating the case. Get the full name and contact information for that officer. Ask the officer what happens next and when. Make sure the officer has your full contact information so they can get a hold of you any time. Ask the officer to put all your contact information in the file. Arrange for a specific time to get back in touch with the officer and follow up on the case progress.

  • Inform yourself as much as possible about your state criminal laws pertaining to child prostitution, and about standards for investigating these crimes. Most states and most countries now have their penal codes on the internet in searchable form. Look up: your state penal code, then search terms like: child prostitution, sex trafficking, child custody, child abuse, child sex abuse. If you're not used to reading laws, they can be difficult to understand at first. Get someone to help you like an advocate at your local rape crisis center or child prostitution refuge. Here are some more online resources for learning about the laws in your area, and the police standards for investigating sexual/prostitution crimes against children.

    Here is a very good online guide that will tell you what the standard is for police investigation of child prostitution. This should help you evaluate the response you're getting on your daughter's case.
    Professional Policing, Child Abuse, Prostitution

    And more...

    Interpol Country-by-Country Summary of Child Sex Offense Laws (Though the front page is in English, when you click on a country where Spanish is spoken, the summary of laws is given in Spanish.)

    U.S. Federal Laws Concerning Child Prostitution

  • Stay in communication with the investigating officer. Regularly ask the officer for an update on the case and investigation. Keep the officer updated with any new information you may have. If you get an officer who is treating your case seriously, don't forget to thank them regularly.

If You Don't Get a Satisfactory Response:

  • If you don't get a satisfactory response from the officer handling the case, don't give up! Don't wait! Don't be shy! And don't feel intimidated! Go immediately to the next step!

  • Go up the ranks! You can call or go into the station. You can speak to the on-call sergeant if you need someone immediately. But if you can wait, it may be better to bring your complaint to the head of the sex crimes investigation unit or the child abuse investigation unit. Or you can go even higher in rank, even to the chief if you like. The main point to remember is that you have a right to a full, proper police investigation. Your daughter is in serious danger. So don't hesitate to insist. (And don't forget to take a friend with you.)

  • If you're still not getting the response you need, a) set up a face-to-face meeting with a high ranking officer, b) put your complaint and request into a one page letter, c.) get other people in the community to help you convince the police... For detailed tips on how to do each one of these things, see, "Strategies for Correcting Inadequate Criminal Justice Response".

  • Have a goal and specific request in mind before making your complaint. For example, your goal might be to get the men arrested for keeping the girl from your custody, to get the department to open a criminal investigation case of pimping, to get a sex crimes detective assigned to investigate that case, to get a different officer assigned to the case, to get specific witnesses interviewed, to get a case sent to the district attorney, or to get any one of a number specific police services. Be very specific in stating what you want, why you want it, and when you want it.

  • If you still don't get the response that you want, ask someone with influence in your community to help you. Ask a teacher who knows your girl. A clergy person. A neighbor. A local politician. An advocate at your local rape crisis center. Ask them to meet with you in person so you can explain the situation calmly. Then ask them to write a letter to the police chief, or to go together with you to meet with the head of the sex crimes unit or other ranking official.

In the next two sections we want to give you a general idea of the kinds of things police can and should do to help you. Keep in mind that each case is going to have a very different set of circumstances from every other case. But if you have a general idea of what police can do, you will be able to better evaluate what's being done in your case. And you'll also be better able to partner with police in a way that will be beneficial to your daughter.

Making the Police Report When You Have Information About Where Your Daughter Is or With Whom She's Staying

Know your right to custody and ask police to enforce it! If you know where your daughter is staying, or you know the names of the people with whom she's staying, the people she's staying with are most likely committing a crime - whether or not your daughter is being prostituted. This is because no one has a right to keep custody of your daughter without your permission. So even if police can't prove right away that the people are prostituting your daughter, police have the power to deliver your daughter back to you and to arrest the people who are keeping her. This is why it's important to know about your right to custody and ask police to enforce it!

With minor variations, every state has a law defining the crime of keeping a child from a parent's custody, a child being anyone under 18-years-old. Here's how this law reads in California.

California Penal Code Section 278. Every person, not having a right to custody, who maliciously takes, entices away, keeps, withholds, or conceals any child with the intent to detain or conceal that child from a lawful custodian shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or both that fine and imprisonment, or by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years, a fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or both that fine and imprisonment.

Note that this law has nothing to do with sexual abuse of any kind. Just the fact that someone is keeping your child out of your custody likely constitutes a crime. The fact that the child may say they want to be staying with the person is irrelevant. This law is common sense. You know instinctively that you can't take another person's child to Disney Land without the parent's permission just because the child wants to go with you to Disney Land. Not in any state, not in any country, not in any culture. Some officers will properly enforce a violation of your custody rights. But, unfortunately, sometimes you'll have to push hard to get police to take the situation seriously, especially if your child is a teen.

Here's an example:

A very distraught mother knew her 13-year-old daughter, Natalie, was staying at the house of a group of older men for days at a time. She had heard from her daughter's friends that the daughter was being prostituted. The mother also knew the first names of a couple of the men and the address where they lived. The mother called the police and told police everything she knew. The officer went to the house, talked to the daughter and to the men. The officer then went back to Natalie's mother and told her they had all said there was nothing going on and that the girl said she was staying there of her own free will. The officer told the mother that he was sorry, but that there was nothing he could do.

Clearly, the officer in this case didn't take the situation seriously, and didn't do his job. In the first place, whenever an officer says that a child is staying somewhere of their own free will, the officer is wrong, since a child cannot consent to being out of their parent's custody. At the very least this officer should have brought the child home. And, given the circumstances, he should have arrested the men for keeping the child from the custodial parents. Because, clearly, a teen girl doesn't invite herself into the home of older men without some enticing going on. Then the officer could have taken the men to the station and interviewed the men separately, and interviewed the girl, too, to try to get at what more was going on.

But much worse than simply being kept out of her parents' custody, the officer had clear indications that Natalie was very possibly the victim of child prostitution. And the officer should have treated the case with all the seriousness that situation demands. In addition to arresting the men for violating your custody rights, the officer should have recognized that these men were highly suspect and likely very dangerous to all the girls in the community and opened a case of child prostitution.

If you give police leads to evidence that a child is likely being prostituted, the officer should create a criminal case report related to 'child prostitution' and open a criminal investigation. (Understand that the crime of prostituting a child in your state may be referred to under a variety of names such as pimping a child, child trafficking, child sexual exploitation, or similar name.)

The first thing you need to do to get the police to open a case of child prostitution is to give the officer sufficient reason to suspect that your child may be being prostituted. You don't have to give the officer proof. But you do have to give the officer more than your hunch or intuition. In the case above, Natalie's mother had more than enough information that should have led the officer to open a case of child prostitution. She had the names of her daughters' friends who said the girl was being prostituted, and she had the first names of older men where her daughter was staying. In addition, the officer, himself, had already confirmed that Natalie was indeed staying at the home of the older men.

Whatever the evidence that led you to believe that your daughter is being prostituted, this is the evidence you'll need to be able to communicate clearly to the officer. This is why it's so helpful if you can sit down before going to police, and put together as complete a list of evidence as you can. Once receiving your information, a diligent officer will immediately take the report, ask you more questions, and either begin to investigate the crime him or herself, or call in a detective to take charge of the case.

  • Unfortunately, there are many officers who will not move to take any action at all. They may say that they need a statement from the victim before they can open a case of child prostitution. This is not true. Naturally it's always better and easier if the victim makes a clear statement that she's being prostituted. But it's definitely not essential to open a criminal investigation of child prostitution. And, if good evidence is developed in the course of the investigation, the victim's statement is also not always essential for a conviction either.

In the case of Natalie, if the investigating officer would have done the most basic step of interviewing the friends of Natalie he would have discovered that these same men Natalie was staying with had tried to pressure the friends into prostitution, too. Not only that, but the officer would also have discovered that Natalie had talked with her friends in detail about being prostituted by the men. Once that information was developed, a good detective could pull the pieces together and make the case of child prostitution against the men.

Here are just some of the investigative techniques a detective could have used to get more evidence in Natalie's case.

  • The detective could have had one of the girls do a 'pretext call' to one of the men. A 'pretext call' is a telephone call covertly set up and recorded by police in which a victim working with police calls a suspect and tricks him or her into talking about the illegal activity. Pretext calls can be a potent source of convincing evidence in all kinds of sex crimes cases.

  • The detective could have arranged a sting in which an undercover officer approached the men, acting as a john looking for underage girls for sex. In most states, if the men agreed to accept the 'john's' money and delivered an underage girl for sex, that man can be convicted of pimping underage girls. There is no need for any sex to actually take place.

  • Another way a detective could have approached Natalie's case is to coax Natalie to tell the truth about what was going on with the men. Once having the information from the other girls, the detective was in a much better position to talk with Natalie; to convince her that she wasn't in any kind of trouble, and that it was important for her to tell the truth.

NOTE: Remember that the circumstances of each case are going to vary widely, and so too, the manner in which an officer will investigate the case. If, after discussing the case with the investigating officer, you're still uncertain about whether police are doing all that should be done in your daughter's case, call one of the confidential numbers listed here.

Making the Police Report When You Suspect Your Daughter is Being Prostituted But You Don't Know Who She's Dealing With or Where She's Staying

If you don't know where your daughter is or who she's staying with, one of the first things you should do is make a missing persons report to police. At the same time, you should communicate the reasons and evidence of why you think your daughter is being prostituted and in danger. Try to convince police to begin an active search for your daughter and to open a criminal investigation into her case. Both of these things can be difficult to get moving.

Police always have piles of missing persons reports, and about 50% are reports of missing teens. Many police will have a tendency to dismiss the importance of your case as just another runaway teenager. The fact is, your daughter may very well be a runaway, or she may have a history of running away. But that doesn't mean she's not being prostituted and that she's not in immediate danger, a kind of danger that police need to move on quickly if serious harm is to be prevented.

According to the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Runaway, and Throwaway Children an average of 450,000 children run away from home ever year. Living on the streets, one out of every three teens will be lured into prostitution within 48 hours.

  • One mistaken idea many people have is that you have to wait 48 hours before making a missing persons report. That's never not correct. Make the report right away, as soon as your daughter is missing. And if the officer won't take the report, you should go immediately to his or her superior.

  • When you make the report, bring as much information with you as you can, including such things as the phone numbers of the people you think might have information, a photo of your child, her cell phone number, etc.

  • Bring with you the written list of the reasons you believe your daughter is being prostituted. This is important because it's so easy to forget even the most important things when you're talking with police. And the reasons and evidence that make you think that your daughter's being prostituted are the very same reasons and evidence that will best convince the police. So make that list and bring it with you because you don't want to forget and leave out any of it.

  • Don't hold back information. If your daughter's been using drugs, hanging out with gang members, or has a history of running away, even though it may pain you greatly to say these things to police, these facts can be critical in helping police find your daughter. Being open and honest with police from the beginning will also help establish a trusting partnership with police, and that can help immensely in getting police to work hard on your case.

  • Make sure police enter the missing persons information in the national NCIC database. And be sure and write down the case number, the name of the officer who took the report, the name of the officer who will be charged with investigating the case, and a direct telephone number for communicating with the officer.

    The federal Adam Walsh Child Protection Act of 2006 requires that law enforcement enter every case of a missing child into the NCIC's Missing Person File within 2 hours or receiving a report of a missing or abducted child. (NCIC is the National Crime Information Center.)

    There is another brand new (July 2009) national missing persons database you should know about called NamUs. One of the great things about this site is that you, yourself, can enter data and search the site. For the user guide for entering and searching on NamUs click here.

But despite all the new electronic tools, the most powerful means of finding your daughter will be connecting to a good police officer who is willing to partner with you and work the case diligently.

  • Ask the officer if they will, in addition, be opening a 'child prostitution' case based on the evidence you've given that your child is being prostituted. The officer may say that they don't have proof that your child is being abused or exploited. Remind the officer that when they open other criminal cases, they don't have proof positive and they don't know who did it until they investigate.

  • If you believe there's good evidence that your daughter's being prostituted, but the officer won't open a criminal case, don't give up. You'll need to go up the ranks. One of the best places to go is to the head of the sex crimes unit. It may be that you'll need to set a meeting with him or her, and possibly bring in others in your community to help persuade the police to open a criminal case and investigation.

    Here's an example:

    A mother has been told by other kids that an older man comes by the school at lunchtime and picks up her daughter in his car. The kids said they've heard this man is a pimp. Today, the girl didn't come home from school.

    This situation should be more than enough for police to immediately open a criminal felony investigation into the case.

    • Stay in contact with the officer(s) handling your daughter's case. Stay alert to any new information, and pass this information on right away to police.

    • If you're not getting the kind of response you think you should be getting from police, don't wait. Go back to the section on how to get a better response from the police. Many, many girls in prostitution have been severely hurt because police ignored pleas from mothers. Your daughter deserves that police take her case very seriously. It doesn't matter a bit if your daughter, herself, has been involved in minor adolescent crimes. Prostituting a youngster is much more serious and should be treated so by police.

Go to Part 4 ~ If Your Daughter Gets Arrested for
Prostitution or Prostitution-related Charges

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