‘Operation Bad Barbie’ sting leads to 23 arrests for child sex crimes | News | #childpredator | #kidsaftey | #childsaftey

Kern County scored a major victory in the war against human trafficking and child sex crimes after 23 individuals were arrested as result of a four-day sting called “Operation Bad Barbie.”

The Daily Independent spoke with Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer Tuesday morning about the sting and how it went down.

“There were actually two operations. One, we call it the Child Predator, and that is when a predator is attempting to contact a child online and have them  meet for a lewd or sexual intent. Human trafficking is something different. That’s when someone is trafficking a person, and it doesn’t have to be a child, to sell them for a purpose or for sex,” Zimmer said.

The recent sting involved both types of sex crimes. Of the 23 arrested, 21 were men and two were female sex workers.

Said Zimmer, “Some were arrested for human trafficking, and some were arrested for child exploitation.”

The undercover sting was held Aug. 9 through Aug. 12 and involved dozens of officers from local, state, and federal agencies including Homeland Security, the FBI and the Secret Service.

According to Zimmer, the operation involved undercover officers who engaged in chat on social media websites and dating apps with offenders. 

One of the offenders arrested listed his employment as the owner of a trucking company and another said he is employed as an engineer at an oil company.

Said Zimmer, “Sexual predators can come from any walk of life.” 

The sting included charges for human trafficking, pimping, pandering, arranging a meeting with a minor for lewd purpose, contact with a minor with intent to commit a sex offense, abduction and possession of child pornography.

Although the recent was a victory in the battle against child sex crimes, Zimmer said the war itself continues to rage on as human trafficking is the fastest growing crime in the world, and it is most prevalent in California.

One reason human trafficking is on the rise is that predators now have access to their victims via our home computers and cell phones.

Said Zimmer, “We used to be safe in our homes, and now that we have the ability to get outside our homes via the internet, kids aren’t as safe. Children are immature and they make poor decisions because of a lack of life experiences. They are gullible and get talked into things. Sometimes predators are looking for children who, unfortunately, have been abused.”

Zimmer said that children who are junior high age are most vulnerable and the most often approached by predators.

Zimmer said she is not aware of incidents involving child trafficking operations taking place in Ridgecrest, however she has seen a lot of cases involving sexual assaults against children come across her desk.

Said Zimmer, “But, that doesn’t mean it (trafficking) hasn’t happened. I know we have seen some of that in Mojave, however.”

According to Dustin Contreras, co-director of the Kern Coalition Against Human Trafficking, the recent arrests can be viewed as the tip of the iceberg as he and Carol Beecroft, the coalition’s other co-director, see these types of crimes every day.

Part of the battle in fighting these types of crimes is that sometimes victims won’t report them for a myriad of reasons such as fear of retaliation, age and not understanding that they are being victimized by someone who they think is their boyfriend.

“In this case, you have law enforcement involved and it gets exposed to the public eye. It puts a dent in what’s going on and is a deterrent to individuals who want to purchase sex like that,” Contreras said Tuesday.

Beecroft added that sex crimes against children can happen anywhere and in any town.

“The problem is sometimes people will think that it can’t happen in their neck of the woods. But, it does,” Beecroft said.

Some of the worst scenarios surrounding sex crimes involve parents who traffick their own children.

Said Beecroft, “When you sell drugs, it’s for a one-time use. But, you can sell a person over and over again.”

Beecroft said parents need to pay attention to what’s going on in the lives of their children, and don’t be afraid to ask them questions.

Contreras also advised parents to use apps designed to monitor computer use, and to be vigilante.

Offenders also need to realize that they could face anywhere from 10 years to life imprisonment for sex crimes against children based on the child’s age.

Said Beecroft of the sting’s 23 offenders, “They are looking at some serious punishments.”

Zimmer agreed that parents need to stay vigilant by keeping tracking of what our children are doing online and off. She also had some sound advice for children to prevent them from becoming a victim. 

Said Zimmer, “The best advice I can give to kids is don’t talk to strangers online.”

Zimmer said she is the author of Senate Bill 14 which she wrote for Senator Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) involving sex trafficking of minors. First voted down by the Assembly Public Safety Committee on July 11, the bill was passed two days later when the Assembly reversed its decision in a rare move following an outcry from the public.

“It was incredible to see firsthand our agents and officers working together to take down 23 perpetrators in our own community. This is exactly why we need to pass Senate Bill 14, to keep repeat child traffickers off of the streets,” Grove said Tuesday afternoon about the recent arrests.

Contreras and Beecroft encourage local civic organizations, clubs and education systems to reach out to them if they are interested in hosting an educational presentation on sex crimes and human trafficking which the coalition offers to the community.

If you know someone who is being forced to engage in any activity and can’t leave, call the Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or the Women’s Center – High Desert, Inc., sexual assault hotline at 760-375-0745.

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