WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- An assistant U.S. attorney who was the first federal prosecutor to use anti-sex-trafficking laws to prosecute sex trade customers is working to spread her techniques in Missouri and Kansas.
The Department of Justice approved a pilot program last month for enhanced enforcement task forces to combat sex trafficking from St. Louis to western Kansas. It will be headquartered in Kansas City, where federal prosecutor Cynthia Cordes is based.
Cordes discussed her efforts Tuesday at a three-day conference on crimes against children that was sponsored by U.S. Attorney for Kansas Barry Grissom., The Wichita Eagle reported (http://bit.ly/n96c3q ).
"It's so hidden, people say it doesn't happen here, but all you have to do is look, and it's there," Grissom said.
Cordes discussed the issue with law enforcement, prosecutors, social workers and others at the eighth annual Protect Our Children Conference at the Airport Hilton. Her workshop on 2009's "Operation Guardian Angel" was a focus for police and prosecutors during the three-day event in Wichita.
Cordes said she grew tired of watching the females involved in the sex trade being treated as criminals while customers "were getting a pass."
The federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, enacted in 2000, initially focused on international human trafficking. But Congress revised it in 2005 to include domestic trafficking, including the sex trafficking of children. Cordes was the first to use the act to go after customers of the domestic child sex trade.
It began in 2009 when Cordes worked with Independence, Mo., police to set up a sting, placing online classified ads for "young fun" and "little girls."
"Within the first 24 hours, we got 500 responses," Cordes said Tuesday.
An Independence police officer posed as the pimp, who would claim to have girls as young as 11 available for sex. Men asked for specific ages of girls, paid the officer and went to a room with a dirty mattress on the floor. When the men stepped into the room, they were arrested. Seven men were convicted in 2009.
Cordes also has helped obtain sentences from 10 to 30 years for pimps and 10 to 15 years in federal prison for customers.
Cordes believes the females involved in commercial sex are victims, rather than prostitutes.
"I've never had anyone tell me they wanted to stay in that life," Cordes said.
The cases can be legally difficult, often taking up to four years to resolve through the courts.
But Cordes said they also are among the most rewarding cases she's prosecuted because she's watched women go back to school, get job training and counseling and rebuild their lives.