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A local MS-13 gang member was sentenced to life in prison last month for running a prostitution ring involving a young girl -- one of three local members of the gang convicted of federal prostitution charges in recent months. But one national child advocacy group says the focus is centered too much on the main offender, and not the others involved in the transaction.
The 12-year-old victim was a runaway in search of food, shelter, and a safe haven.
But what she got was a pimp, a member of the notoriously violent MS-13 gang who was in this country illegally. She met him in 2009, at a time when the gang was moving from drug trafficking to child sex trafficking.
He forced her into selling her body -- for $40 per 15 minutes -- to men throughout Northern Virginia, Maryland, and the District.
"The saddest thing I saw was that the police knew men were lined up for every 15 minutes, 7 days a week, for a sex act with this child. Child! 12 year old," says Linda Smith, a former congresswoman and the founder of Shared Hope International.
Shared Hope is an organization that works to rescue children trapped in prostitution. Smith says there should be punishment not only for the MS-13 offender, but also for the men who fueled his underage operation.
"And these were common men and there was never a lack for market. There was always a buyer in that line, from what this says in this case," Smith says. "Every man in that line should have gone to jail. Why aren’t any buyers going to jail for life?"
Smith’s organization is due to release a report card on the state of human trafficking in the U.S. next month.