The FBI says it has rescued 105 children who were forced into prostitution in the United States, and arrested 150 pimps in a series of raids in 76 American cities.
The campaign, known as "Operation Cross Country," was the largest of its type and conducted under the FBI's "Innocence Lost" initiative. It all took place in just 72 hours.
“Child prostitution remains a persistent threat to children across America,” Ron Hosko, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, commented. “This operation serves as a reminder that these abhorrent crimes can happen anywhere and that the FBI remains committed to stopping this cycle of victimization and holding the criminals who profit from this exploitation accountable.”
Reuters related that the youngest victim recovered was just 9-years-old. However, officials said that the victims, almost all girls, ranged in age from 13 to 17.
Detroit saw the most pimps arrested, while the largest numbers of children rescued were in San Francisco, Detroit, Milwaukee, Denver and New Orleans.
The FBI posted raw video of one of the raids:
Additionally, the FBI told the story of one of the victims it rescued.
At age 15, Alex decided to leave home and eventually ended up with an "abusive boyfriend who wanted to pimp her out."
“You learn quickly that the only people who are really willing to feed you, clothe you, and shelter you are your parents,” she commented in a video for the FBI. “So I had to figure something out.”
By age 16, Alex was officially a prostitute.
“At first it was terrifying, and then you just kind of become numb to it,” she said. “You put on a whole different attitude—like a different person. It wasn’t me. I know that. Nothing about it was me.”
Two years later, Alex contacted the FBI and helped facilitate the rescue of numerous underage victims. She also helped put two pimps in jail. Now, Alex said she has decided to turn her life around. She got her high school diploma, and wants to go to college.
“What happened to me happened, and I can’t change it,” she said. “I can only change my future.”
You can watch video of her remarks, below:
The Justice Department has estimated that nearly 450,000 children run away from home each year, and that one-third of teens who end up living on the street will be lured toward prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home.
The FBI says it has rescued 2,700 children since 2003 under its "Innocence Lost" initiative. It has partnered with the the non-profit group the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in its work.
The arrests have resulted in roughly 1,350 convictions, the FBI said, many with "lengthy sentences" and ten life sentences. The FBI has also seized more than $3.1 million in assets.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This post has been updated.
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This is a breaking news story. Updates will be added.