Law enforcement officials rescued 168 child victims of commercial sex trafficking in a nationwide sweep during the past week and arrested 281 alleged pimps, the FBI said Monday.
The recoveries and arrests took place in 106 cities as part of a week-long campaign targeting truck stops, casinos, websites that advertise dating or escort services and metro areas populated by strip clubs and pornography stores.
This is the eighth time the FBI has coordinated a nationwide crackdown, FBI Director James Comey said. Known as Operation Cross Country, the effort involved 54 FBI field divisions and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
Last week's operation is part of a larger initiative that in the past seven years has identified and recovered about 3,400 children who have been sexually exploited, the FBI said. The operation also has led to 1,450 convictions, 14 life prison terms and the seizure of more than $3.1 million in assets.
"Operation Cross Country reveals that children are being targeted and sold for sex in America every day," said John Ryan, president and CEO of the national center.
Operations in Oregon led to the recovery of one minor child and the identification of 20 adult prostitutes, many of whom had been trafficked since they were 13 or 14 years old, FBI's Portland office reported. Police officers in Portland, Beaverton and Eugene each arrested one trafficker on state charges of promoting prostitution.
The largest number of children, 18, were recovered in Denver. Denver area police on Friday arrested a 19-year-old man, who is accused of repeatedly slapping a 16-year-old runaway when she didn't collect enough money from her "dates," according to court documents. The girl told police she was taken from hotel to hotel to perform sex acts and was too scared to flee.
"These are not children living in some faraway place, far from everyday life," Comey said. "These are our children. On our streets. Our truck stops. Our motels. These are America's children."
Initial arrests often involve violations of local and state laws relating to prostitution or solicitation, the FBI said. Information gleaned from those arrested frequently uncovers organized efforts to prostitute women and children across many states.
FBI agents develop this evidence in partnership with U.S. Attorney's Offices and the Justice Department's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section so that prosecutors can help bring federal charges in cities where child prostitution occurs.
Operation Cross Country is part of the Innocence Lost National Initiative, established in 2003 by the FBI's Criminal Investigative Division, in partnership with the Justice Department and the national center.
Contributing: Trevor Hughes