A nationwide sex trafficking sting has resulted in the recovery of 149 sexually exploited children and the arrests of more than 150 pimps and other perpetrators, the FBI announced Oct. 13.

Screenshot from raw video footage from Cross Country operations in Alexandria, Virginia. Operation Cross Country is a week-long, FBI-led enforcement action to address commercial child sex trafficking throughout the United States.

Screenshot from raw video footage from Cross Country operations in Alexandria, Virginia. Operation Cross Country is a week-long, FBI-led enforcement action to address commercial child sex trafficking throughout the United States.

It was the ninth such annual action – codenamed Operation Cross Country – that the FBI has conducted in partnership with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

“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.”

This year, 73 of the FBI’s Child Exploitation Task Forces, comprising more than 500 federal, state and local law enforcement officials, conducted exercises in 135 cities. Authorities raided hotels, casinos, truck stops, and other areas frequented by pimps, prostitutes, and their customers. The youngest recovered victim was 12 years old; also, three of the rescued minors were transgender, and three were males.

Screenshot from raw video footage from Cross Country operations in Alexandria, Virginia. Operation Cross Country is a week-long, FBI-led enforcement action to address commercial child sex trafficking throughout the United States.

Screenshot from raw video footage from Cross Country operations in Alexandria, Virginia. Operation Cross Country is a week-long, FBI-led enforcement action to address commercial child sex trafficking throughout the United States.

Denver ranked first among the targeted cities in the number of juveniles recovered from trafficking for the second time in row. Twenty underage victims were recused in the Mile High city. Detroit came in second with 19 recovered minors.

“We’re not playing around. If you’re caught hurting and trafficking our children, we’ll do everything we can with prosecutors to put you behind bars forever and take away your freedom,” Thomas P. Ravenelle, special agent in charge of the FBI Denver Division, said.

The cross-country shakedown was part of the FBI’s Innocence Lost National Initiative. Since its inception in 2003, the program has resulted in the recovery of an estimated 4,800 sexually trafficked juveniles and the conviction of more than 2,000 pimps and others involved in the illegal sex trade.

During the operations, victims’ specialists were on hand to provide crisis intervention, food, clothing and medical care among other services to the recovered children.

“From an investigative standpoint, Operation Cross Country targets the individuals and criminal enterprises responsible for the commercial sex trafficking of children,” said one of the Bureau’s victim specialists. “But our main goal is to provide support and services for these young victims—to help stabilize them and get them moving forward in a positive direction.”

 

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO