On Monday, the FBI announced that it had located 84 underage victims of child sex trafficking and 37 missing children during a nationwide sex trafficking operation conducted this month. Of the minor victims rescued, the average age was 15.5, and the youngest victim was 11 years old. The FBI also located 141 adult victims of human trafficking.
“Operation Cross Country," the nationwide enforcement campaign, was an FBI-led operation that partnered with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and state, local, and federal agencies to initiate 391 operations across the nation during the first two weeks of August.
“The initiative really just takes a concentrated period of time where we’re just focused on the problem of child sex trafficking,” said FBI Section Chief Jose Perez. “What we do is we sit down with our local partners and our task forces and identify certain areas where we know sex trafficking is prevalent, and we’ll dedicate resources and efforts to identify and remove victims from those areas.”
The operation focused on collecting intelligence, building criminal cases against suspects, and offering assistance to the victims. It led to the arrest of 85 individuals suspected of child sexual exploitation and human trafficking. Authorities will continue to investigate the suspects for additional potential offenses.
FBI Director Christopher Wray stated, “Human trafficking is among the most heinous crimes the FBI encounters.” He continued, “Unfortunately, such crimes — against both adults and children — are far more common than most people realize. As we did in this operation, the FBI and our partners will continue to find and arrest traffickers, identify and help victims, and raise awareness of the exploitation of our most vulnerable populations.”
According to the NCMEC, runaway children make up the majority of missing minor cases reported to the non-profit. In 2021, the organization worked with authorities, families, and child welfare on 27,733 missing children cases. It reported that 19% of children who ran away from social services were likely victims of sex trafficking.
Cases of missing children are not required to be reported to the NCMEC. However, cases of missing children from social services care must be reported to the non-profit.
President and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children Michelle DeLaune said, “The success of Operation Cross County reinforces what NCMEC sees every day. Children are being bought and sold for sex in communities across the country by traffickers, gangs, and even family members.”