The FBI and local law enforcement agencies across the country have rescued 82 girls and arrested 239 alleged pimps and traffickers as part a cross-agency effort to crack down on sex traffickers. An international effort rescued 41 children in Canada, Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines.
It is the 10th annual operation by Operation Cross Country, which began expanding internationally this past year with the launch of a Canadian branch, Northern Spotlight.
“Operation Cross Country aims to shine a spotlight into the darkest corners of our society that seek to prey on the most vulnerable of our population,” said FBI Director James Comey in a press release issued by the FBI. “As part of this effort, 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 release outlines the scope of the operation, which the FBI says “has yielded more than 6,000 child identifications and locations,”
Operation Cross Country X is the largest ever in the history of the initiative, with 55 FBI field offices and 74 Child Exploitation Task Forces representing more than 400 law enforcement organizations taking part in the operation. In addition, several dozen operations across Canada, and approximately 10 operations took place in six cities across Cambodia, Thailand, and the Philippines.
A FBI spokesperson told The Stream that because Operation Cross Country is focused on rescuing children from trafficking, the agency did not have a readily available number as to how many adults were rescued during the stings.
State By State
Here is a non-exhaustive list of how many people were rescued and/or arrested in several states and cities:
According to The Spokesman-Review, Operation Cross Country saved 67 women and five girls from sex trafficking in Washington State. Fourteen people were arrested.
In Kansas, 26 people were arrested and five minors were rescued. The Atlanta, Georgia area saw “nearly 70 people” arrested on trafficking-related charges, and 15 were arrested in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area.
Nine children were rescued in Colorado and Wyoming. Nine pimps and 32 “customers” were arrested, according to The Denver Post. Dozens of people were arrested and several minors rescued in Florida, and in Mississippi, almost 30 people were arrested.
The Houston, Texas, area saw three minors rescued and “three traffickers and their associates” arrested, according to Fox4 in Beaumont, Texas. The outlet reported that one teenager “was … reunited with her family.”
Complexity in Helping Rescued Girls and Women
Shared Hope International seeks to end sex trafficking. Senior Director Samantha Vardaman told The Stream that “In the U.S., girls who are recovered from a sex trafficking situation might receive services depending on which state they are in, how they are recovered (e.g., through [law enforcement] arrest vs. child protective services), and whether they cooperate in some cases.”
“Shared Hope is working to correct the inconsistencies and develop more integrated systems of services across the nation through our JuST Response project,” said Vardaman.
Vardaman also addressed a common problem in sex trafficking, where girls and women manipulated or forced into becoming part of a trafficker’s recruitment team. This can end with a trafficked woman being listed as a sex offender or some other type of law violator.
“In the U.S., the largest problem for survivors is the criminal record many of them have after having been trafficked. Nearly all adult women are arrested at some point, and far too many minors still are arrested. In fact, it is still legal in 31 states in the nation to arrest a minor for prostitution,” she explained.
“This is in direct contradiction to the federal law and often in contradiction with their own state laws! Any child used in a commercial sex act is a victim of sex trafficking,” she explained. “Advocates have pressed FBI to institute a meaningful screening mechanism when encountering adult women to determine if they are, in fact, sex trafficking victims or were minors when they first were exploited in prostitution.” (For more from the author of “Over 80 Rescued, 239 Arrested in Nationwide Sex Trafficking Stings” please click HERE)