The FBI has recovered children and busted at least two pimps in a statewide child-sex trafficking crackdown, according to authorities.
“Operation Cross Country,” a nationwide law enforcement action that took place last week and focused on underage victims of prostitution, has concluded with the recovery of 149 sexually exploited children and the arrests of more than 150 pimps and other individuals, according to the FBI.
FBI officials said in a release that agents in New Jersey recovered six underage victims of human trafficking and arrested two pimps in Newark, Atlantic City and elsewhere. Twenty-one adults allegedly participating in prostitution were arrested.
No specific information on the victims and suspects was provided.
The FBI, in partnership with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), conducted the annual action—the ninth and largest such enforcement to date—as part of the Bureau’s Innocence Lost National Initiative.
“Our mission is to protect the American people—especially our children—from harm,” said FBI Director James Comey. “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. We simply must continue to work with our partners to end the scourge of sex trafficking in our country.”
An officer with the Alexandria (Virginia) Police Department monitors an undercover sting operation in a hotel room during Operation Cross Country.
“Human trafficking is a monstrous and devastating crime that steals lives and degrades our nation,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch. “As a result of the FBI’s outstanding coordination and exemplary efforts alongside state and local partners during Operation Cross Country, more children will sleep safely tonight, and more wrongdoers will face the judgment of our criminal justice system.”
Since its creation in 2003, the Innocence Lost program has resulted in the identification and recovery of approximately 4,800 sexually exploited children. And prosecutors have obtained more than 2,000 convictions of pimps and others associated with these trafficking crimes, including at least 15 cases that have resulted in life sentences, according to the FBI.
This year’s enforcement action, coordinated through 73 of the FBI’s Child Exploitation Task Forces—which include federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies—was conducted nationwide in 135 cities. More than 500 law enforcement officials took part in sting operations in hotels, casinos, truck stops, and other areas frequented by pimps, prostitutes, and their customers. The youngest recovered victim was 12 years old.
Following Operation Cross Country, digital billboards have been featured nationwide as part of the FBI’s continuing efforts to stop the sex trafficking of children.
“We are proud to partner with the FBI and provide support to both law enforcement and victim specialists in the field as they work to locate and recover survivors of child sex trafficking,” said Linda Krieg, NCMEC’s acting chief executive officer. “The number of children recovered and pimps arrested in this year’s operation highlights the importance of these efforts today and every day in protecting our children.”