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Sex-trafficking sting rescues 168 U.S. kids; many had not been reported missing

FBI Director James Comey announced June 23 that a week-long sting operation named Operation Cross Country VIII netted 281 suspected pimps and rescued 168 children. The youngest was only eleven years old. Unfortunately many of the rescued had never been reported missing, with 10 percent under the supervision of the child welfare system.

On June 23 the FBI announced the results of its annual cross-country child sex-trafficking sting.
On June 23 the FBI announced the results of its annual cross-country child sex-trafficking sting. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

“These are not faraway kids in faraway lands,” Director Comey reported during a press conference. “These are our kids on our street corners, our truck stops, our motels, our casinos. These are America’s children.”

"I hate that we have to do this work — hate it," Comey said. "I love the people who've devoted their lives to doing this work. There is no more meaningful work that the FBI participates in than rescuing children."

This eighth annual sting involved nearly 400 state and local law enforcement agencies that are involved in sex-related crimes. All together these FBI operations has rescued more than 3,600 children.

Comey explained that the operations were designed to "crush these pimps" and show that children are not for sale. They are also intended to rescue children who are being trafficked on street corners, in truck stops and, increasingly, on the Internet, where pimps advertise and arrange sexual encounters.

“Many of the children recovered during this operation were never reported missing,” John Ryan, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said at the press conference. “When they go missing from child welfare systems, they are literally flying under the radar. No one is reporting them missing, hence no one is looking for them.”

Child welfare is not the only culprit in the failure to report teens as missing. Some of these kids are runaways who kids come from broken homes or are mistreated in foster homes and make the mistake that they can care for themselves. They might even have been tossed out by parents who "could not control them." They find themselves on the street eventually, committing crimes to eat, find housing and fund other needs including drugs and alcohol.

Kids that roam the streets are promised a better life by pimps who at first seem harmless and truly concerned about their welfare. Others are tricked into a compromised situation by chatting online with people they think are their own ages. When the perp asks to meet in person they are kidnapped or tricked into going home with the perp.

Law enforcement officials said the suspected pimps will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, citing as a benchmark the January conviction of Paul Bell, a Los Angeles-area gang member who pleaded guilty to sex trafficking and now faces a 30-year prison sentence. In fact, sex trafficking convictions have yielded 14 life sentences.

In monitoring sex trafficking patterns law enforcement agencies have found a more sophisticated pattern by organized groups over the years. Teens are more careful about being caught on street corners. The FBI has found that like many other crimes sex trafficking has moved into secreted Internet communication. Websites are used to both solicit and sell children. That makes it more difficult to investigate. My experience with the FBI regarding identity theft introduced me to some websites that were involved in purchasing children and child porn using stolen credit cards.

In briefings we attended, agents would discuss the changes over the years in regards to trafficking of drugs, people and stolen identity theft information. In years past you could monitor trafficking routes, many that started at the Mexican borders or in metropolitan cities. Law enforcement could more easily ascertain where to look for trafficked items. The Internet is become a perfect tool to stay cloaked and conduct business with relative little risk of exposure for the perpetrator.

"There's a risk that people will imagine these folks as some TV characters," Mr. Comey said of the alleged pimps. "They are not. They are people who are killing the souls of our children, who by their actions are snuffing the light out of the most vulnerable and promising of our people."