The FBI located 200 victims of sex trafficking as part of an enforcement campaign that was conducted alongside its local and state partners and arrested or identified 126 suspects of child sexual exploitation and human trafficking offenses.
Known as Operation Cross Country, the effort was a two-week-long campaign carried out last month by the FBI in partnership with law enforcement agencies and organizations like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
According to an FBI press release from earlier this month, an additional 68 individuals suspected of trafficking were identified or arrested, and the FBI and its partners also located 59 minor victims of sex trafficking or sexual exploitation.
“Human traffickers prey on the most vulnerable members of our society, and their crimes scar victims—many of them children—for life,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement. “The FBI’s commitment to combatting this threat will never waver, and we will continue to send our message that these atrocities will not be tolerated.”
“This operation would not be possible without the commitment and collaboration from our state and local law enforcement partners, and it demonstrates our continued focus on actively pursuing the criminals responsible for these heinous violations and connecting those impacted with dedicated victim services and resources.”
During the operation, law enforcement agencies helped to identify and arrest offenders while victim specialists addressed the needs of the trafficking victims, including shelter and emergency services.
“Behind every statistic, there is a person with dreams, aspirations, and the right to live a life free from child sex trafficking and exploitation,” NCMEC President and CEO Michelle DeLaune said in a statement.
“We applaud the FBI and their partner law enforcement agencies for their unwavering dedication to protecting children. Their tireless efforts in combatting crimes against children sends a powerful message that child sexual exploitation will not be tolerated.”
According to NCMEC, “research, data and survivor lived experience and expertise have revealed traffickers and buyers often target youth who lack strong support networks, have experienced violence in the past, are experiencing homelessness, or are marginalized by society.”
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland emphasized in the FBI’s press release that sex trafficking inflicts “unimaginable harm” upon the victims and endangers vulnerable people. The attorney general indicated that his office would continue working with law enforcement partners across the country to prevent human trafficking and prosecute the criminals responsible.
As CPR News reported Wednesday, the FBI sex-trafficking campaign led to the recovery of 27 victims, eight juveniles and 19 adults, in Colorado. The FBI conducted its Operation Cross Country campaign in the state for two days in July, leading to the arrest of five traffickers. Eight suspects were identified for investigation, and 14 additional minor victims were located but not recovered.
According to the outlet, FBI Denver partnered with more than 40 state and local agencies to locate sex trafficking victims and arrest suspects.
FBI Denver Special Agent in Charge Mark Michalek explained to CPR that the case didn’t involve traffickers snatching people off of the street and that the perpetrators exploited victims through “psychological or physical control.”
As Lieutenant Aaron Rebeterano of the Denver Police Department’s Strategic Investigations Bureau noted, many of the victims had difficult home lives or a narcotics addiction, which made them vulnerable to traffickers. The lieutenant said that most traffickers are drug dealers or gang members that make a profit by selling people.
“This begins the grooming process for the traffickers. Traffickers often offer these juveniles and these teens drugs in lieu of sex,” Rebeterano said, as quoted by CPR. “The traffickers will then try to hold onto the victims and then offer them to other individuals associates for sexual acts.”
“Although we have observed this current trend, we have also investigated residential brothels, illicit massage parlors and street level trafficking, all with the same outcome.”
Last year, FBI Denver worked with around 40 partners to recover 11 child victims of sexual exploitation and 27 endangered or missing children. According to the agency’s press release at the time, the operation also led to the recovery of 11 adult victims and the identification of six traffickers, two of which were later arrested on unrelated warrants.
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