FBI Washington
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August 6, 2019

Innocence Lost National Initiative and Operation Independence Day 2019

Washington Field Office Announces Local Results of New Program Focusing on the Recovery of Child Victims From Commercial Sex Trafficking

The Department of Justice announced today the FBI-led nationwide recovery or identification of 103 child victims and the arrest of 67 sex traffickers through Operation Independence Day. This initiative—a revamping of a previously successful program—was executed during the month of July through 161 operations conducted nationwide.

The FBI Washington Field Office’s Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation Task Force participated in this initiative and recovered two juveniles and conducted five arrests, and obtained one plea agreement and six indictments related to federal human trafficking violations.

“The FBI Washington Field Office’s Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation Task Force works tirelessly every day to bring justice to the most vulnerable victims in our community: our children,” said Acting Assistant Director in Charge John P. Selleck. “The initiative announced today allows us to shine a light on the important work that our investigators do each day to combat traffickers and recover victims. I commend the difficult work of our special agents, analysts and victim specialists who see the evil of these people every day and vow to continue their work to help all victims of these crimes. There is still much work to do, and the FBI and our task force law enforcement partners will continue to investigate and identify anyone responsible for these despicable and harmful acts against children.”

Operation Independence Day relied on the 86 FBI-led Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Forces (CEHTTFs), which leveraged the resources and intelligence of other federal, state, local, and tribal partners. Overall, more than 400 agencies participate in these task forces.

Operation Independence Day prioritized locating and rescuing missing minors who are at great risk for sexual exploitation, and arresting the traffickers exploiting them. To that end, through its partnership with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), FBI special agents and intelligence analysts reviewed information provided through NCMEC’s CyberTipline, to identify missing minor children at risk for sexual exploitation, and then worked with state and local partners to execute law enforcement activity designed to recover those children and arrest traffickers.

The health and welfare of recovered minor and adult trafficking victims was a further priority. To facilitate these efforts, the FBI’s Victim Services Division and victim specialists stationed in each of our 56 field offices also worked closely with the task forces during the operation to ensure recovered children received the help they needed. Victim specialists put internal and external resources in place before the operation to ensure victim assistance was a priority in the aftermath of the law enforcement operations.

In June 2003, the FBI, in conjunction with the Justice Department Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section and NCMEC, launched the Innocence Lost National Initiative (ILNI). This combined effort was aimed at addressing the growing problem of domestic sex trafficking of children in the United States. In the years since its inception, the ILNI has expanded to 86 dedicated CEHTTFs. These task forces, with the U.S. Attorney’s Offices and the FBI’s Victim Services Division, have worked successfully to rescue thousands of children.

Through ILNI, the FBI, along with its local law enforcement partners, uses task forces to leverage resources and intelligence to identify and recover child victims and prosecute those responsible for their exploitation. This collaborative effort has led to the recovery or identification of more than 6,600 child victims. The initiative has also led to more than 2,750 convictions, including more than 15 life sentences and many other sentences ranging from 25 years to life.

In 2008, the ILNI initiated Operation Cross Country (OCC)—a focused, national campaign that targeted the venues where children were the victims of commercial sex trafficking. Since 2008, there have been 11 iterations of OCC, recovering more than 900 child victims and arresting nearly 1,400 traffickers. The last operation was held in October 2017 with 78 task forces participating.

The FBI determined that after 11 years of OCC success, it was time to re-evaluate the program. The newly renamed Operation Independence Day was conducted over an entire month, rather than a few days, but continued to focus on the recovery of child victims from commercial sex trafficking.

The FBI’s Crimes Against Children and Human Trafficking Unit and DOJ coordinated the operation.