The FBI rescued children – 168 in all with the youngest victim being only 11 years of age – in a sweeping crackdown on human trafficking and sexual exploitation. The 106-city collaborative sting netted close to 300 “pimps” who were involved in the abduction and mistreatment of children, the majority of whom were minors.
According to a report from Reuters news agency on Monday, “nearly 170 victims of child sex trafficking, many of whom had never been reported missing, were rescued in the last week as part of an annual nationwide crackdown. Besides the 168 children rescued from the sex trade, 281 pimps were arrested during the same period on state and federal charges.”
FBI Director James Comey spoke of the success of the crackdown, known as “Operation Cross Country,” and said that this is not just an international issue. “These are not faraway kids in faraway lands,” Comey said. “These are America's children.”
Comey said that each year, the FBI takes part in a recovery effort that targets those who are abusing children. Many of the adults are involved in online child pornography operations. Some of the children are actually sold online or peddled out on street corners like hookers.
“There is no more meaningful work that the FBI participates in than rescuing children,” Comey said. To date, the FBI, in alliance with state authorities, have recovered close to 3,600 children in the eight years that Operation Cross Country has been in place. Over 1,400 individuals have been prosecuted and convicted.
Per the Reuters report:
One challenge, officials said, is that many of the children who were recovered were never reported missing in the first place — by parents, guardians and the entire child welfare system designed to protect them.
“No one is reporting them missing. Hence, no one is looking for them,” said John Ryan, CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “But for operations like this, these children likely would never have been found. We cannot find them if no one reports them missing.”
Comey had a message for anyone engaged in such sickening abuse:
“Our children are not for sale…We will respond and crush these pimps who would crush these children,” the director said.