Eighty-four children were rescued — including one as young as three months old — and 120 human traffickers were arrested in a nationwide undercover operation.
Half of those arrests took place in Georgia, with two arrests in Savannah and 58 in Atlanta, according to an FBI Atlanta news release.
Four children were rescued in Atlanta and Augusta, the release says.
The Georgia operation was a partnership between the Atlanta FBI’s Metro Atlanta Child Exploitation Task Force and Child Exploitation Task Forces in Savannah.
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"I commend every one of them for their hard work and dedication in the recovery and the apprehension of those responsible for their exploitation,” said David J. LeValley, special agent in charge of the Atlanta FBI Field Office, in the release. “I would also like to thank all of the law enforcement agencies who participated and the various non-government agencies who provided specialized relief and services to the victims of this traumatic brand of human trafficking."
In South Carolina, the three-day operation from Oct. 12-15 focused on undercover stings in Myrtle Beach and Columbia.
Three women were arrested and charged with prostitution last week in a joint FBI/Myrtle Beach Police Department operation at the Hilton Garden Inn near Coastal Grand Mall.
Capt. David Knipes with MBPD said the arrests came as part of the FBI’s operation on the evening of Oct. 13.
The Columbia FBI office has not released a total number of arrests for South Carolina.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation led Operation Cross Country XI in 55 FBI field offices across the country with the help of 78 state and local task forces and five international partners hailing from Canada, the United Kingdom, Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines, according to a press release Wednesday.
“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 in the release. “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.”
FBI agents and task force officers staged operations in hotels, casinos, and truck stops, as well as on street corners and Internet websites, according to the release. The youngest victim recovered during this year’s operation was 3 months old, and the average age of victims recovered during the operation was 15 years old, the release stated.
Minors recovered during Cross Country operations are offered assistance from state protective services and the FBI’s Victim Services Division. Depending on the level of need, victims are offered medical and mental health counseling, as well as a number of other services, the release stated.
“Child sex trafficking is happening in every community across America, and at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, we’re working to combat this problem every day,” said NCMEC President and CEO John Clark. “We’re proud to work with the FBI on Operation Cross Country to help find and recover child victims. We hope OCC generates more awareness about this crisis impacting our nation’s children.”
On Oct. 13, the FBI field office in Denver, Colorado, recovered two minor girls—one 3-month-old and one 5-year-old, according to the release. A friend of the children’s family, offered an undercover officer access to the two children for sexual purposes in exchange for $600, the release stated.
The FBI is working with Child Protective Services to conduct a forensic interview and secure safe placement of the children, the FBI stated in the release. The family friend was arrested.
Also on Oct. 13, a 16-year-old female victim was recovered by FBI agents in El Paso, Texas, after an undercover officer called an online advertisement for entertainment. The agent met with a 21-year-old female, who agreed to engage in sexual intercourse with the officer and the 16-year-old for a fee of $200, according to the release.
Further investigations revealed that a second adult female drove the minor and the 21-year-old to the undercover agent’s location, the release stated. Both female subjects have been arrested on federal charges, according to the FBI.
This report was contributed to by Ashley Jean Reese, firstname.lastname@example.org.