FBI operation rescues 84 underage victims of prostitution, including a three-month-old

ST. GEORGE The FBI’s Salt Lake City field office was among more than 500 law enforcement agencies across the country that took part in a four-day operation to recover underage victims of prostitution, according to the FBI.

The FBI, in partnership with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, announced Oct. 18 that 84 children – including one who was just 3 months old – were recovered and 120 traffickers were arrested as part of “Operation Cross Country XI,” which began Oct. 12. The average age of victims was 15 years old.

All of the recovered minors were offered services by specialists who are either part of the FBI’s Victim Services Division or members of other local and state law enforcement agencies, with more than 100 victim specialists who provided on-scene crisis intervention services, as well as resources for basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter, and medical attention.

Operation Cross Country gives us the opportunity to shine a light on this threat and to educate the public,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said, adding that while the action has an immediate impact of recovering a significant number of juvenile victims, “we recognize that there is a lot more work to be done to identify and recover even more victims.”

Fifty-five FBI offices and 78 local task forces comprised of more than 500 law enforcement agencies involved in the effort, according to the FBI. Additionally, hundreds of law enforcement personnel took part in sting operations in hotels, casinos, truck stops and through social media sites frequented by pimps, prostitutes, and their customers.

Several international partners participated in the operation, including Canada’s “Operation Northern Spotlight,” the “Aident 8” program in the United Kingdom, as well as participation from Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines.

Agents from the Salt Lake City office and their law enforcement partners conducted sex trafficking investigations every day. Using undercover agents and detectives who canvassed websites advertising prostitution as well as surveillance of areas of prostitution, they were able to contact young women and adults involved in the activity, according to a separate statement issued by Sandra Barker, public affairs specialist for the agency’s Salt Lake City Division.

“This past weekend, the FBI’s Child Exploitation Task Force in Utah and the Salt Lake City Police Department Organized Crime Unit arrested an adult male trafficker (pimp) on suspicion of exploitation of a prostitute,” Barker said. “The FBI and its partners also made contact with seven women involved in prostitution. The women were made aware of and offered services within the community.”

During Operation Cross Country, agents located victims in Utah, but who were not necessarily from the state, according to the FBI’s announcement. By the very nature of the crime, pimps and their victims travel throughout the country to engage in prostitution, so they don’t necessarily live in the same area where they are found by authorities.

That is one of the keys to the program: “casting a wide net” to identify, locate and recover victims before the suspects have a chance to move them to another area.

Agencies also gain intelligence as the simultaneous operations are taking place across the country, which gives them a better understanding of the overall problem, as well as the criminal threat it poses on society.

The program is part of the FBI’s Innocence Lost National Initiative that launched in 2003. Since the program’s inception, more than 6,500 children have been identified and recovered, an average of more than 480 children recovered per year.

To address violent crimes against children, the FBI has established nearly 70 Child Exploitation Task Forces around the country that rely on partnerships with all levels of law enforcement and includes FBI victim specialists who play a key role in helping the victims. Their assistance continues throughout the investigation, criminal prosecution and beyond.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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