Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies across the country conducted a massive operation over the last week resulting in the recovery of 168 children who were being victimized through prostitution, the FBI announced Monday.
The child sex trafficking operation, Operation Cross Country, included law enforcement actions in 106 cities across 54 FBI field divisions and resulted in the arrests of 281 pimps. The pimps face state and federal charges.
“Targeting and harming America’s children through commercial sex trafficking is a heinous crime, with serious consequences,” FBI Director James B. Comey said in a statement. “Every child deserves to be safe and sound. Through targeted measures like Operation Cross Country, we can end the cycle of victimization.”
Such operations usually begin with local law enforcement officials who target truck stops, casinos, streets, and websites advertising dating or escort services, according to the FBI. From there, intelligence is gathered and arrests often uncover organized efforts to prostitute and exploit women and children.
“Child sex traffickers create a living nightmare for their adolescent victims,” Leslie R. Caldwell, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ), said in a statement. “They use fear and force and treat children as commodities of sex to be sold again and again. This operation puts traffickers behind bars and rescues kids from their nightmare so they can start reclaiming their childhood.”
Operation Cross Country was part of the Innocence Lost National Initiative established in 2003 by the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division in partnership with the DOJ and National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).
The FBI has recovered nearly 3,600 children from the streets to date, and investigations and 1,450 subsequent convictions have resulted in the seizure of more than $3.1 million in assets and 14 life sentences, according to the FBI.
“Operation Cross Country reveals that children are being targeted and sold for sex in America every day,” John Ryan, President and CEO of NCMEC, said. “We’re proud to partner with the FBI and provide support to both law enforcement and victim specialists in the field as they help survivors take that first step toward freedom.”