The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) has announced the outcome of its annual sex trafficking bust, which resulted in the rescue of 82 minors and the arrest of 239 perpetrators.
Operation Cross Country is a part of the FBI’s Innocence Lost National Initiative, which was first launched in 2003. This year’s effort took place from Oct. 13 to 16.
“Operation Cross Country aims to shine a spotlight into the darkest corners of our society that seeks to prey on the most vulnerable of our population,” Director James Comey stated in a press release. “We are not only looking to root out those who engage in the trafficking of minors, but through our Office for Victim Assistance, we offer a lifeline to minors to help them escape from a virtual prison no person ever deserves.”
The FBI says that the effort spanned 55 FBI field offices and 74 FBI-led Child Exploitation Task Forces, as well as help from over 400 law enforcement agencies. Hundreds participated in stings in hotels, casinos, truck stops, and other locations nationwide—including on the Internet.
Among those arrested this month include nearly 70 suspects in Georgia, 45 in Louisiana, 44 in Nevada, 28 in Mississippi, 20 in Oregon, more than a dozen in Wisconsin, 14 in Washington State, over 10 in Colorado, and many others across the nation. Carl Ferrer, the CEO of Backpage, was also apprehended in Houston, Texas and is facing charges of pimping a minor and conspiracy to commit pimping.
Comey said that children were exploited by a variety of means, with some being trafficked by the gangs that they had joined, independent sex traffickers, or in some cases, even their own family.
Two of the girls that were rescued, ages 16 and 17, told officials that their mother is a pimp and that she had been renting out their brother’s room to a registered sex offender.
The youngest child rescued was 13 years old.
“These children trapped in this hell need a hero,” Comey declared during a press conference on Tuesday. “And the men and women who work for us, federal agents, state agents, local police officers and partners around the world are those heroes.”
“This is a depressing day in law enforcement, because this is the world we live in and the work we have to do,” he said. “But it is a [satisfying] day for law enforcement, because there are people who spend every day worrying about how to rescue these children. They are true heroes.”
Those that were rescued from trafficking were provided with resources to help put their lives back together, including where to obtain basic necessities such as food, clothing and shelter.
John Clark of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children outlined during the press conference that the organization receives approximately 10,000 calls a year regarding sex trafficking.
“That’s just the ones that are reported,” he said. “We know that in this dark world there are many, many more of these situations that are going unreported. So this has to stop.”
The FBI estimates that it is has rescued over 6,000 children since the program’s inception.