A nationwide effort over the weekend, led by the FBI, has rescued more than 100 children–some as young as 13–from forced prostitution, according to the FBI.
“It would be easy enough to look through the eyes of the children, who are saying, ‘Who cares about me?'” said Ron Hosko, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “Well, we are standing in front of you today saying that we do.”
Hosko called sex trafficking among children “one of the most prevalent, violent and unconscionable crimes in this country,”
Many of the children rescued from forced prostitution were being sold online, at truck stops and on city streets, Hosko said at a press conference in Washington.
The FBI, along with 230 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in 76 U.S. cities, launched its seventh iteration of Operation Cross Country, arresting about 150 “pimps” and their associates in the past 72 hours.
Traffickers prey on youth with “low self esteem and minimal social support,” particularly children who are homeless or in foster care, according to Justice Department official Drew Oosterban.
“With no way to survive on their own, they are lured into a life of being trafficked for sex,” said John Ryan, the head of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “When these children are recovered … typically their only possessions are the clothes that they are wearing.”
Those arrested over the weekend are facing a range of federal and state charges, including offenses related to human trafficking, coercion and commercial sex.