Sex Trafficking in our Backyard: DC Police Officer Forced Teenage Girls to Sell Sex

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With the recovery of 168 children in the recent FBI Operation Cross Country VIII, FBI Director James Comey reminds us that sex trafficking can occur anywhere in the world, including the United States.[1] Comey states, “These are not faraway kids in faraway lands. […] These are America’s children.”[2] These raids are controversial because law enforcement officials arrested and cited many women for prostitution to target pimps; the occurrence of sex trafficking throughout the United States remains a reality.[3]

Although there are positive results from these raids, Amara strongly believes that alternative methods besides arresting sex workers and victims of sex trafficking should be used to target pimps. Please stay tuned for an upcoming Amara critique on the FBI’s methods used in their raids.

However, the fact remains that young people are being sexually exploited right here in DC on a daily basis. Shockingly, former District of Columbia police officer, Linwood Barnhill, has recently admitted to forcing teenage girls, ages 15, 16, and 17, to have sex with men for about $80 per session out of his own apartment in southeast DC.[4] Barnhill recruited the girls at malls in southeast DC and promised them modeling jobs.[5] He also searched for girls at bus stops nearby Jasper Street and Alabama Avenue SE, as well as Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road SE.[6]

Pulling up in his 2004 black Lincoln Navigator, he typically asked young girls if they were interested in modeling careers and handed them his card. If they contacted him later on, he brought them to his apartment, photographed them both clothed and nude, and then set up “appointments” for the teenage girls to have sex with men.[7] One seventeen year old girl was also forced to perform oral sex on Barnhill, which he videotaped on his phone.[8]

On June 20, 2014, Barnhill pled guilty to “two counts of pandering minors for prostitution and one count of possession of child pornography” before Judge Rosemary M. Collyer at the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.”[9] These charges refer to three female juveniles, but it is likely that Barnhill had numerous victims. One of Barnhill’s victims tipped off police that “she had met six other young women or girls in the apartment.”[10]

Furthermore, when police investigated Barnhill’s apartment they found a mirror with several female names written on it, “eight cellphones — the primary means of a pimp’s communication with [the girls] — and ‘more than 100’ condoms, a volume of brothel dimensions.”[11] One young woman also commented that Barnhill advertised several of his victims on Backpage.com, which is a classified advertising website. Although Backpage.com serves as an online marketplace for legal transactions including automotives and real estate, it also hosts a large adult services section which may be used to advertise and exploit victims of trafficking.”[12]

Barnhill’s current plea deal includes a seven-year prison sentence despite the fact that “federal sentencing guidelines recommend nine to twelve years for those offenses.”[13] Barnhill’s lawyer negotiated with U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. for this plea arrangement, but Judge Rosemary M. Collyer will ultimately decide Barnhill’s sentence on September 4, 2014 at the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.[14] Under §1590 of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, whoever knowingly recruits and forces another person to perform services including labor or sex can be imprisoned for up to twenty years.[15]

However, although Barnhill recruited and coerced young women to perform sexual services, he is not being charged with the federal offense of human trafficking, likely because only evidence was presented about crimes committed within the District of Columbia. Instead, he is being charged for possession of child pornography, a federal offense with a maximum sentence of ten years imprisonment, in addition to two counts of pandering of a minor at the DC level, which is a violation of DC Code § 22-2705(a)(2)(C) and (c)(2) and carries a maximum sentence of twenty years imprisonment.[16] Considering that Barnhill disregarded his duty as a police officer to protect the public and instead forced young women, ages 15, 16, and 17, to sell themselves for sex, why is his current plea bargain more lenient than the law suggests?

Furthermore, although Barnhill’s plea bargain requires him to register as a sex offender for at least twenty-five years, it is uncertain whether or not the prosecutor will request restitution for the young women as part of the arrangement.[17]

According to the plea agreement, it is the court’s responsibility “to determine whether, and in what amount, mandatory restitution applies in this case” regarding the federal child pornography charge,[18] but restitution is not required under DC Code §22-2705(a)(2)(C) and (c)(2). Thus, the woman who was videotaped may receive restitution under federal law, but the court is not legally obligated to consider restitution for the other young women under the DC law. Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, it is mandatory to request restitution for victims of human trafficking. However, given that this case is not being tried under the TVPA, the prosecutor is not required to request restitution.

Nonetheless, it is essential for the prosecutor to submit this request in order to ensure that the victim is compensated fairly. For instance, the amount of restitution should be calculated by multiplying the days the victim “worked” for the trafficker and the amount of earnings the victim made each day. Current and future expenses for medical and psychological treatment as a result of the trauma endured by the victim should also be included in the restitution calculation.

Depending on the judge and the court, however, restitution may not be calculated in this manner. Therefore, Amara recommends that restitution be requested on behalf of these young women and will closely follow this case, advocating for restitution to be requested for all the victims involved in this crime. If you’d like to attend the public sentencing hearing for Barnhill with other Amara supporters, please get in touch with us.

By Caroline Ackerman

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