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FBI recovers 168 child sex trafficking victims: many were never reported missing

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The F.B.I. announced today the results of Operation Cross Country, its eighth nationwide operation targeting commercial child sex trafficking as part of the Innocence Lost National Initiative, created in 2003. In this operation, 168 children were recovered who were being victimized through commercial sexual exploitation and 281 sex traffickers of minors were arrested.

“Operation Cross Country reveals that children are being targeted and sold for sex in America every day,” said John Ryan, President and CEO of National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), an Innocence Lost Initiative partner. He continued, “If it wasn't for an operation like Operation Cross Country, it’s likely these children would never have been found.”

According to NCMEC, “Many of the children recovered during these coordinated sweeps have never been reported missing. These kids weren't on anyone’s radar.” NCMEC reinforced its statements with data: “One out of every seven endangered runaways reported to us in 2013 was likely a sex trafficking victim. Of that number, 67 percent were missing from [foster] care.”

Because of this atrocious criminal exploitation of runaway foster children, NCMEC insisted: “we must have a law in this country requiring mandatory reporting by state welfare agencies of all children missing from foster care.”

This latest nationwide Cross County Operation included law enforcement actions in 106 cities across 54 FBI field divisions. Of those 54 field divisions, four are in California: Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, and San Francisco. Although representing 7% of the field divisions involved in Operation Cross Country VIII, these California locations accounted for 16% of the child victims recovered and 14% of the pimps arrested.

Los Angeles, the largest metropolitan area of the four California field divisions, had the most victims recovered (10) and second most traffickers arrested (12) in the state. The three counties that the FBI's Sacramento field division coordinated operations in had the second most victims recovered during this operation with nine (Fresno: 5, Sacramento: 3, Solano: 1). The San Francisco FBI field division had the most arrests in California during this operation with 13.

“Child sex traffickers create a living nightmare for their adolescent victims,” said Leslie R. Caldwell, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice. “They use fear and force and treat children as commodities of sex to be sold again and again.”

The Innocence Lost National Initiative includes the partnership of the Department of Justice and NCMEC along with the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. Since its creation, the FBI and its task force partners have recovered nearly 3,600 children from sex trafficking and successfully prosecuted 1,450 convictions, including 14 life term sentences.

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