Written and Media by Andrea Martin. [divide]
Two weeks ago the FBI enacted Operation Cross Country, which resulted in the recovery of 149 sexually exploited children and the arrests of nearly 150 pimps and other individuals.
According to the FBI, the youngest victim rescued was 12 years old. Three were transgender, and three others were males.
With the operation in its ninth year, authorities were able to net more recoveries and arrests than in any previous enforcement year. Operation Cross Country spanned more than 135 American cities, with around 500 small agencies working alongside the FBI and National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
“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,” FBI Director James Comey said in a news release.
The Innocence Lost program, started by the Bureau in 2003, has resulted in the identification and recovery of approximately 4,800 sexually exploited children, according to the FBI’s website. Along with such recoveries have been the arrests of more than 2,000 pimps and others.
While the sting is considered a success, the world of sex trafficking continues to grow as they continue to be successful in their attempts to target children. Traffickers still target children who are most vulnerable, those who most likely had been turned over to a local child welfare system. Those also targeted consist of runaways or victims of trauma, abuse or drug addiction in the past. Many of the sexually exploited children are moved from city to city depending on the rate of business; Las Vegas and coastal cities are familiar spots for pimps of sex trafficking, as well as for prostitutes.
“This is still a crime that the majority of law enforcement has not received training in,” Shehan said. “We need to recognize that these kids are victims. The term prostitution is an inadequate one because it implies choice. In reality what we know… is that it’s not a choice. Most of the time there’s abuse, violence and control that takes place.”