The FBI has rescued 84 children from the hands of 120 traffickers who were arrested Wednesday amid a nationwide crackdown on child trafficking, the agency said in a statement.
The sting, dubbed “Operation Cross Country XI” was a multistate operation focused primarily on the recovery of children and taking out the “pimps” who run human trafficking rings.
“We at the FBI have no greater mission than to protect our nation’s children from harm. Unfortunately, the number of traffickers arrested — and the number of children recovered — reinforces why we need to continue to do this important work,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said.
“This operation isn’t just about taking traffickers off the street. It’s about making sure we offer help and a way out to these young victims who find themselves caught in a vicious cycle of abuse,” he added.
The four-day operation involved 55 field offices, 78 Child Exploitation Tasks Forces, 500 law enforcement agencies across multiple states and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, according to the FBI. The sting was the latest operation in a long-running venture called the Innocence Lost National Initiative. Since its inception in 2003, the venture has found and rescued 6,500 children, NBC News reported.
The FBI said its agents and task force officers staged sting operations in hotels, casinos, street corners and truck stops, in addition to online advertising, WJRT reported.
“We go out in an undercover capacity, and we try to make contact with youth whether as a customer sex buyer or trafficker even,” Arapahoe investigator Daniel Steel told KCNC.
A 3-month-old baby found in Denver was the youngest victim rescued during the operation.
“During operations by FBI Denver’s Rocky Mountain Innocence Lost Task Force, for example, a three-month-old girl and her five-year-old sister were recovered after a friend who was staying with the family made a deal with an undercover task force officer to sell both children for sex in exchange for $600,” the FBI said.
FBI Denver Special Agent in Charge Calvin Shivers said the bureau provides victims services to rescued children to help return them to their homes or reintegrate them into society.
Arapahoe County District attorney George Brauchler said child trafficking is a multifaceted issue, explaining it’s a market with buyers and sellers.
“It’s not just that someone is willing to sell someone, it’s that there are buyers out there who are willing to engage in this,” Brauchler said.
The head of the FBI’s Denver field office, Todd Pooler, said Wednesday’s sting was just the beginning of the FBI’s efforts to eradicate child trafficking.
“If you are a sexual predator or are sexually exploiting children, the FBI and law enforcement partners will find you,” Pooler said. “You can count on it.”