FBI agents and local authorities rescued 141 adult victims of human trafficking, 84 minor victims of child sex trafficking and sexual exploitation, and have identified 37 actively missing children during a two-week nationwide operation in August dubbed “Operation Cross Country.”
The average age of victims in similar operations is approximately 15 years old, while authorities said the youngest victim discovered during this operation was 11 years old.
“Human trafficking is among the most heinous crimes the FBI encounters,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement. “Unfortunately, such crimes—against both adults and children—are far more common than most people realize.”
Federal officials arrested 85 suspects of child sexual exploitation and human trafficking offenses as part of Operation Cross Country, which conducted 391 operations over two weeks. Teams included in the operation consist of FBI special agents, intelligence analysts, victim specialists, and child adolescent forensic interviewers working with 200 local, state, and federal partners.
Victim specialists provide a bridge for survivors who have lost trust in the system by helping them establish a positive relationship with law enforcement.
Specialists also help survivors receive available resources based on individual needs, such as crisis intervention and basic living needs.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which also partnered with the operation, said the success of rescuing the minors who were trafficked reinforces what the organization sees daily.
“Children are being bought and sold for sex in communities across the country by traffickers, gangs, and even family members,” Michelle DeLaune, President and CEO of the center, said in a statement. “We’re proud to support the FBI’s efforts to prioritize the safety of children. This national operation highlights the need for all child-serving professionals to continue to focus on the wellbeing of children and youth to prevent them from being targeted in the first place.”
The center’s website reports it assisted law enforcement, families, and child welfare with 27,733 missing children cases.
According to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, there were 337,195 entries for missing children in 2021. The number of missing child entries was 365,348 in 2020.
“The initiative really just takes a concentrated period of time when we’re just focused on the problem of child sex trafficking,” Section Chief Jose Perez, who oversees violent crime investigations in the FBI, said according to Fox News. “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.”