JACKSON, Miss.–Just how many children were rescued in Mississippi in Operation Cross Country was expected to be discussed Wednesday by the FBI at their Mississippi office. The operation was a nation-wide effort last week to get child prostitutes away from the exploiters and back to their families.
“Our mission is to protect the American people—especially our children—from harm,” said FBI Director James Comey.” When kids are treated as a commodity in seedy hotels and on dark roadsides, we must rescue them from their nightmare and severely punish those responsible for that horror. We simply must continue to work with our partners to end the scourge of sex trafficking in our country.”
About 150 pimps were arrested and 149 children were rescued, said the FBI, which, in partnership with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), conducted the annual action, the ninth and largest such enforcement to date, as part of the Bureau’s Innocence Lost National Initiative.
“Human trafficking is a monstrous and devastating crime that steals lives and degrades our nation,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch. “As a result of the FBI’s outstanding coordination and exemplary efforts alongside state and local partners during Operation Cross Country, more children will sleep safely tonight, and more wrongdoers will face the judgment of our criminal justice system.”
From an FBI news release:
Since its creation in 2003, the Innocence Lost program has resulted in the identification and recovery of approximately 4,800 sexually exploited children. And prosecutors have obtained more than 2,000 convictions of pimps and others associated with these trafficking crimes, including at least 15 cases that have resulted in life sentences.
This year’s enforcement action, coordinated through 73 of the FBI’s Child Exploitation Task Forces—which include federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies—was conducted nationwide in 135 cities. More than 500 law enforcement officials took part in sting operations in hotels, casinos, truck stops, and other areas frequented by pimps, prostitutes, and their customers. The youngest recovered victim was 12 years old.
“We are proud to partner with the FBI and provide support to both law enforcement and victim specialists in the field as they work to locate and recover survivors of child sex trafficking,” said Linda Krieg, NCMEC’s acting chief executive officer. “The number of children recovered and pimps arrested in this year’s operation highlights the importance of these efforts today and every day in protecting our children.”
During Operation Cross Country, nearly 100 victim specialists from the FBI’s Office for Victim Assistance provided on-scene services to recovered young victims. Services included crisis intervention as well as resources for basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter, and medical attention.
“From an investigative standpoint, Operation Cross Country targets the individuals and criminal enterprises responsible for the commercial sex trafficking of children,” said one of the Bureau’s victim specialists. “But our main goal is to provide support and services for these young victims—to help stabilize them and get them moving forward in a positive direction.”