“Operation Not Forgotten” in metro Atlanta and Macon resulted in the rescue of 25 children, the safe location of 13 others and the arrests of nine people for alleged crimes related to sex trafficking, parental kidnapping, registered sex-offender violations, drugs and weapons possession, and custodial interference. The initiative involved the U.S. Marshals Service, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and Georgia state and local agencies.
The missing children were considered to be some of the most at-risk and challenging recovery cases in the area, based on indications of sex trafficking, exploitation, sexual abuse, physical abuse and medical or mental health conditions, the U.S. Marshals Service said in a press release.
Fifteen of the children had allegedly been trafficked for sex, authorities said, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
“Sex trafficking can be, in many ways, a hidden crime — one that lives in the shadows,” Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said at a news conference Thursday. “If we can save one child from a life of abuse or sex trafficking, we’ve done our job. And this operation did that for many, many children.”
In other cases, children were located at the request of law enforcement to ensure their well-being. Investigators were able to confirm each child’s location in person and assure their safety and welfare.
The children ranged in ages from 3 to 17 and had been missing anywhere from two weeks to two years. Some of them were reluctant to leave the homes where they were found, which officials said often happens with children or teens who are repeatedly subjected to sexual abuse.
Donald Washington, director of the U.S. Marshals Service, said that of the more than 421,000 children missing in the country, 91% are considered endangered runaways and about one-sixth are likely to become sex-trafficking victims.
Authorities estimate 300 young girls are lured into sex trafficking each month in the Atlanta metropolitan area alone, the Journal Constitution reported.
“These are not children that are in some faraway land,” Washington said. “They are America’s children, and they are kids that we need to go and find.”
The children who were rescued are now receiving medical treatment and mental counseling, officials said.