FBI-Led Sweep Targeting Sex Traffickers Recovers Dozens of Minor Victims


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More than 200 victims of sex trafficking were rescued during a nationwide enforcement campaign last month that also included the identification or arrest of more than five dozen suspected human traffickers and 126 individuals accused of child sexual exploitation and trafficking offenses.

The FBI-led “Operation Cross Country,” which involved nearly every FBI field office and their respective state and local partners, also located 59 minor victims of child sex trafficking and sexual exploitation, and another 59 children who had been reported missing.

The two-week law enforcement initiative—now in its 13th year—is a coordinated operation among the FBI, other federal agencies, state and local police, and social services agencies across the country to find and assist victims of human trafficking, particularly child victims. Law enforcement agencies conduct targeted operations to identify traffickers, their networks, and their victims. FBI victim specialists, working alongside local agencies, then provide immediate support and access to the extensive resources that are available to all federal crime victims. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) is a significant partner in the initiative. The private non-profit is a clearinghouse of information and has assisted in more than 400,000 cases of missing kids who were recovered since its founding in 1984.

“Human trafficking is a grave violation of human rights that preys on the most vulnerable members of our society,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in an August 1 announcement of the arrests and recoveries. “The FBI’s actions against this threat never waver as we continue to send our message that these atrocities will not be tolerated.”

FBI Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Forces across the country work throughout the year to locate victims and their traffickers. Often, victim specialists are embedded in operations. They serve as a liaison between the victims and FBI agents. They also help victims find services to rebuild their lives. The FBI’s Victim Services Division has a team of child and adolescent forensic interviewers, or CAFIs, who are specially trained interviewers skilled at gathering evidence without further traumatizing children and others with mental or emotional disabilities. These multi-disciplinary teams work with state and local partners to make resources available for victims, which might include counseling, medical services, housing, or job placement.

“Our victim specialists, victim service coordinators, child and adolescent forensic interviewers, and other victim service professionals work collaboratively with special agents to ensure a trauma-informed, victim-centered approach is taken when engaging with victims,” said Regina Thompson, assistant director of the Victim Services Division. “This is especially important when engaging with victims of human trafficking as it is a very complex, traumatic crime.”

Operation Cross Country grew out of a 2003 FBI initiative to identify and recover minors who have been sexually exploited. While the national sweeps draw attention to the issue of trafficking, the FBI and its partners work to investigate and stop trafficking every day.

“Behind every statistic, there is a person with dreams, aspirations, and the right to live a life free from child sex trafficking and exploitation,” said NCMEC President and CEO Michelle DeLaune. “We applaud the FBI and their partner law enforcement agencies for their unwavering dedication to protecting children.”