ATLANTA — Agencies across Georgia were part of a revamped month-long operation that spanned the country and recovered or identified 103 child victims of human trafficking.
Throughout the month of July, police agencies partnered with the FBI for Operation Independence Day - an expanded version of Operation Cross Country which focused on child sex trafficking victims for many years.
Independence Day relied on 86 FBI-led Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Forces that combined information from federal, state, local and, where applicable, tribal partners. Across the U.S., 400 agencies were involved. In Georgia alone, roughly 30 law enforcement agencies were involved along with four independent groups, those included Georgia Cares, 4Sarah, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, iCare and Safehouse Augusta.
Of the 103 child victims identified or recovered in the nation, seven child victims were recovered and four adult victims were recovered in Georgia. Three pimps and traffickers were also taken into custody in Georgia out of 67 across the U.S.
“This initiative has two crucial goals: rescuing children being sold for sex and prosecuting their adult traffickers,” said Attorney General William P. Barr. “Child sex trafficking is a heinous crime that preys on the most vulnerable in our society."
The operation is the evolution of a program initially implemented under the Innocence Lost National Initiative in 2003. The original program was a joint operation between the FBI, the Justice Department Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
In 2008, Innocence Lost began Operation Cross Country which focused on venues where children were the victims of commercial sex trafficking. Eleven versions of the operation have happened since then recovering 900 child victims and arresting 1,400 traffickers. In its last year, 78 task forces were involved.
The return of the operation in 2019 brought one major change - having it last an entire month rather than just a few days.
“Through operations like this, the FBI helps child victims escape the abusive life of sex trafficking. Our agents, intelligence analysts, professional staff, and victim specialists work tirelessly before, during and after these operations to make sure that victims get the help they need to reclaim their lives,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children remains a major partner in the latest evolution of the operation.
"We know this horrendous crime impacts communities across our country every day and we applaud the FBI for continuing to work tirelessly to locate these victims and hold accountable those who are selling children for sex,” said John Clark, the president and CEO of the organization.
In metro Atlanta alone, police departments in Atlanta, South Fulton, Cobb County, DeKalb County, Marietta, and Smyrna were involved along with the Paulding County Sheriff's Office.
Statewide agencies including the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services and the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice also partnered in the effort.