COLLINSVILLE, Il (KMOV.com) -- Police track down a missing Collinsville teenager and the man police say prostituted the girl online. Now, that man is charged in federal court, but police say there are a lot more like him lurking behind a computer screen.
But so are St. Louis police. A group of detectives with the St. Louis County Police Special Invesitgations Unit work undercover every day to find the people trafficking underage girls for sex.
“It seems like there’s been a big increase in the last year or so here in St. Louis with the underage girls being prostituted out,” Sgt. Adam Kavanaugh said.
Nearly every case these detectives work originate from the website backpage.com. It’s similar to Craigslist, but you have to pay to play. And the “adult” categories explain why.
It was on backpage.com where police say a 16-year-old girl was posing as a 20-year-old, looking for sex in St. Louis and Chicago. Federal agents got a tip on the case and now say Reginald Williams was behind that post. Williams claimed that he was just working security for the girls but that he did allow them to use his credit card to pay for the listing on Backpage.
Sgt. Kavanaugh says while the girls are listed as “independent,” they’re not. “There’s some pimp somewhere along the way that’s running those girls,” he said.
An undercover detective posed as a customer and set up a date for sex with the girl at a local hotel. That’s where police arrested Williams and rescued the victim.
Police say there are dozens of other girls out there just like her.
“I don’t know if it’s the economy or if these girls—they’re getting a lot of these girls from rural communities that don’t have a lot, and [the pimps] start talking about how they can make them all this money, so they bring them out to St. Louis County, St. Charles County and St. Louis city because that’s where the money is to be made,” Sgt. Kavanaugh explained.
Police aren’t certain why they’re seeing such a drastic increase in young girls being prostituted online, but they hope it’s because reporting has increased and their tactics to get the pimps keeps getting better.