WASHINGTON, Oct. 19 (UPI & Gephardt Daily) — The Federal Bureau of Investigation rescued nearly 100 exploited children and arrested more than 200 for their exploitation in what has become an annual international effort to focus on sex trafficking.
Operation Cross Country resulted in 82 children being recovered and 239 pimps and other individuals arrested, finding success against what is likely a small portion of exploitation of children, FBI officials say.
One of those children, identified as a 17-year-old girl, was rescued in the state of Utah, and is now being cared for by Department of Family Services, according to Special Agent in Charge Eric Barnhart.
Six others in the state were taken into custody and charged with prostitution.
In a Salt Lake City press conference Tuesday, Barnhart said the six who were arrested for prostitution likely started out as underage victims of sexual predation and exploitation, but as adults, were reluctant to admit to their histories. It is just one of the frustrations law enforcement deals with as they attempt to both track and solve a problem that’s growing in scope, and being fanned by the Internet.
Barnhart’s sentiments were echoed by FBI Director James Comey in Washington, D.C.
“This is a depressing day in law enforcement,” he said, “because this is the world we live in and the work we have to do.”
Comey said the 55 FBI field offices and 74 Child Exploitation Task Forces, which include members of more than 400 law enforcement agencies, took part in sting operations in hotels, casinos, truck stops and other places pimps and their customers abuse children.
The annual three-day operation has been conducted for more than 10 years, and in recent years has expanded to include locations in Canada, Cambodia, the Philippines and Thailand.
Among the adults caught exploiting children was a mother in Milwaukee pimping out her two daughters, aged 16 and 17, as well as five adults arrested for operating a web-streaming service offering access to live streamed child sexual abuse in the Philippines where a 2-year-old girl and two boys, age 11 and 5, were rescued.
The program has resulted in the recovery of more than 6,000 children from sex trafficking, but officials and advocates say the problem remains rampant and generally unknown, requiring better awareness that people actually do these things.
“Teachers, the child welfare system, all these different groups need to have an increased awareness of how to better identify this, what are the indicators they should be looking for,” Staca Shehan, executive director of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, told The Christian Science Monitor. “We need to increase in all different sectors awareness of the crime.”