Investigators saved 149 sexually exploited children from prostitution in a series of sting operations in cities across the country, according to the FBI.
As part of ‘Operation Cross Country,’ the FBI partnered with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies as well as the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) to target areas known to be frequented by pimps such as hotels, casinos and truck stops, prostitutes and customers in what became their largest enforcement to date, the FBI said.
“Our mission is to protect the American people—especially our children—from harm,” said FBI Director James Comey in a statement. “When kids are treated as a commodity in seedy hotels and on dark roadsides, we must rescue them from their nightmare and severely punish those responsible for that horror.
"We simply must continue to work with our partners to end the scourge of sex trafficking in our country.”
The youngest victim recovered by the task force was just 12 years old, the FBI said.
“Runaway juveniles are particularly vulnerable to being led into prostitution, because they’ve run away from possibly a bad family situation and then get pulled into drugs, or a gang lifestyle that leads to prostitution,” said Crystal Nosal, Senior Public Information Officer with Alexandria Police Department, which assisted the FBI in its operation.
More than 500 law enforcement officials took part in the sting operations, which saw more than 150 alleged pimps and others arrested in 135 cities across the country, the FBI said.
“We are proud to partner with the FBI and provide support to both law enforcement and victim specialists in the field as they work to locate and recover survivors of child sex trafficking,” said Linda Krieg, NCMEC’s acting chief executive officer.
“The number of children recovered and pimps arrested in this year’s operation highlights the importance of these efforts today and every day in protecting our children,” she said.
During the operation, nearly 100 victim specialists from the FBI’s Office for Victim Assistance provided on-scene services to recovered young victims. Services included crisis intervention as well as resources for basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter, and medical attention, the FBI said.
“Human trafficking is a monstrous and devastating crime that steals lives and degrades our nation,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said.
“As a result of the FBI’s outstanding coordination and exemplary efforts alongside state and local partners during Operation Cross Country, more children will sleep safely tonight, and more wrongdoers will face the judgment of our criminal justice system,” Lynch said.