The FBI has been working with state and local partners during the first two weeks of August and has just announced the success of a cross-country operation that resulted in the recovery of more than 200 victims of human trafficking.
Operation Cross Country found 84 minor victims of child sex trafficking and child sexual exploitation. The operation also uncovered 37 actively missing children, the Department of Justice reported.
The FBI and its local partners also found 141 adult victims of human trafficking and identified or arrested 85 suspects of child sexual exploitation and human trafficking, the DOJ reported.
The 85 suspects arrested will come under additional investigation for other potential charges.
The FBI’s Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Forces that are spread throughout the country work to locate victims of trafficking.
For Operation Cross Country, about 200 other federal, state and other local agencies partnered with the bureau’s task forces, the FBI reported.
“They encountered both child victims of sex trafficking and adults who were being trafficked against their will. The goal is to gather intelligence, build criminal cases against traffickers, and offer victims assistance,” the FBI’s report outlined.
Section Chief Jose Perez oversees violent crime investigations in the FBI. He commented that the continued operations aimed at countering child sex trafficking is going to take time.
“The initiative really just takes a concentrated period of time where we’re just focused on the problem of child sex trafficking,” Perez said. “[W]e 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.”
While the FBI’s main focus is to gather evidence to build cases against traffickers and rescue victims, the bureau also embeds victim specialists in operations.
The FBI and other agencies deal with the rescue and criminal side of the operations. Victim specialists are there to act as liaisons between trafficking victims and FBI agents and then work to find help for the victims.
This year, the operations have also expanded to look into sex offenders who might be eligible for federal charges, as well as other people who try to connect with children online in order to abuse them, the FBI reported.
This new aspect of Operation Cross Country is expanding the whole purpose of the operations and broadening law enforcement’s efforts in combatting human trafficking and abuse.
“With the advent of social media, access to mobile devices and technology … they’re out there in the neighborhoods not being monitored,” said a special agent identified only as Sam, who leads the Chattanooga office’s crimes against children investigation
“And we don’t know if they’re going to have access to these communication devices to continue to exploit children online or have inappropriate physical contact with children,” the agent added.
Detective Sgt. Steve Hope, an officer from the Red Bank Police Department, spoke about the experience of partnering in Chattanooga’s part of Operation Cross Country.
As an officer from a small police department, Hope spoke about how valuable it was to partner with the FBI to investigate child predators and traffickers.
“It’s amazing the rush to know you can get these people before they hurt any more children. An agency [this] size, we don’t have the manpower to do that, but to be part of this task force … the FBI has brought me in as one of their own,” Hope said.
Meanwhile, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the FBI and its partners will continue to find, arrest and investigate human trafficking and exploitation crimes.
“Human trafficking is among the most heinous crimes the FBI encounters,” Wray, according to the DOJ release. “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 our most vulnerable populations.”