168 Juveniles Recovered in Nationwide Operation Targeting Commercial Child Sex Trafficking
During the past week, the FBI; its local, state, and federal law enforcement partners; and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) conducted Operation Cross Country VIII, a week-long enforcement action to address commercial child sex trafficking throughout the United States. This operation included enforcement actions in 106 cities nationwide, including Columbia and North Charleston, and resulted in 168 recoveries of children who were being victimized through prostitution. Additionally, 281 pimps were arrested on state and federal charges.
“Targeting and harming America’s children through commercial sex trafficking is a heinous crime, with serious consequences,” said FBI Director James B. Comey. “Every child deserves to be safe and sound. Through targeted measures like Operation Cross Country, we can end the cycle of victimization.”
“Child sex traffickers create a living nightmare for their adolescent victims,” said Leslie R. Caldwell, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice. “They use fear and force and treat children as commodities of sex to be sold again and again. This operation puts traffickers behind bars and rescues kids from their nightmare so they can start reclaiming their childhood.”
Operation Cross Country is part of the Innocence Lost National Initiative that was established in 2003 by the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, in partnership with the Department of Justice and NCMEC, to address the growing problem of child prostitution.
“Operation Cross Country reveals that children are being targeted and sold for sex in America every day,” said John Ryan, president and CEO of NCMEC. “We’re proud to partner with the FBI and provide support to both law enforcement and victim specialists in the field as they help survivors take that first step toward freedom.”
Since 2003, the FBI and its task force partners have recovered nearly 3,600 children from the streets. The investigations and subsequent 1,450 convictions have resulted in lengthy sentences, including 14 life terms and the seizure of more than $3.1 million in assets.
“Human trafficking is not only a global problem, but a very real problem for the FBI and its law enforcement and community-based partners in this area as well. The FBI would like to encourage anyone with information regarding human trafficking to contact the Columbia FBI Field Office. Providing the much-needed relief from such exploitation is a very gratifying endeavor for the FBI agents working these matters,” said David A. Thomas, Special Agent in Charge of the Columbia FBI Office.
“There is no place for child prostitution and its companion crime of human trafficking in our state. Everyone in South Carolina needs to be aware that this illegal activity is real, and it could be happening in your community. State and federal authorities are delivering a powerful message with these arrests: if you are committing these crimes, we are coming for you,” said Attorney General Alan Wilson.
Task force operations usually begin as local enforcement actions that target truck stops, casinos, street “tracks,” and websites that advertise dating or escort services, based on intelligence gathered by officers working in their respective jurisdictions. Initial arrests are often violations of local and state laws relating to prostitution or solicitation. Information gleaned from those arrested frequently uncovers organized efforts to prostitute women and children across many states. FBI agents further develop this evidence in partnership with U.S. Attorney’s Offices and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section so that prosecutors can help bring federal charges in those cities where child prostitution occurs.
The Innocence Lost National Initiative partners with NCMEC to provide training for state and federal law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and social service providers from across the country.
U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said, “The Innocence Lost National Initiative targets child sexual exploitation and abuse. Anyone with information on child prostitution should contact 1-800-THE-LOST or go to www.missingkids.com.”
“Human traffickers do not respect state lines or national borders. That’s why law enforcement at every level must be vigilant and work cooperatively to bring to justice to those who profit from the misery of others,” said Chief Mark Keel, SLED.
Chief William “Skip” Holbrook, Columbia Police Department, said, “Human trafficking is a worldwide billion-dollar criminal enterprise. Joint law enforcement operations such as this help build our capacity to end the exploitation of victims in the US and abroad.”
“When agencies continue to work together to accomplish the mission at hand, the bad guys will always lose. Putting mindless criminals who have no regard for human life behind bars is good, but there’s still work to be done; the Richland County Sheriff’s Department will continue to support unified operations such as this. Now, we must focus on getting the victims the attention and care they need,” said Sheriff Leon Lott.
“Rescuing the victims of human traffickers and holding their abusers accountable is an important mission that is a top priority of ICE Homeland Security Investigations,” said Special Agent in Charge Brock D. Nicholson of HSI-Atlanta. “We were proud to assist the FBI on this operation and will continue to work with all of our partners to eradicate the scourge of this crime from our communities.”
The FBI thanks Columbia PD, Richland County Sheriff’s Department, SLED, Lexington County Sheriff’s Department, North Charleston PD, ICE, the US Attorney’s Office, and the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office for their ongoing enforcement efforts and participation in Operation Cross Country VIII.