WASHINGTON – Federal officials announced Monday that 52 children had been saved and nearly 700 people had been arrested and charged over the past three days in a nationwide crackdown on child prostitution.
FBI officials, representatives of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and police agencies throughout the country said the arrests were the results of investigations in 36 cities.
The sweep, dubbed Operation Cross Country, is part of the Innocence Lost National Initiative, started in 2003 to address child sex trafficking in the U.S.
The arrests are “extraordinary, almost historic,” said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, in an interview. “It’s an incredible model. I think it’s working. We’re having an enormous impact on this business.”
To date, the initiative has rescued nearly 900 children, led to the conviction of 510 pimps, madams and their associates, and seized $3.1 million in assets, according to the FBI.
“It is repugnant that children in these times could be subjected to the great pain, suffering and indignity of being forced into sexual slavery for someone else’s profit,” Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer said in a statement. “But Cross Country IV has shown us that the scourge of child prostitution still exists on the streets of our cities.”
FBI investigators worked in tandem with the center to identify victimized children and their exploiters.
The Internet, Allen said, was the “greatest tool” at their disposal, though it cut both ways because the alleged pimps use it to communicate with one another and hunt for victims from the privacy of their homes or motel rooms.
Most of the children recovered through the project have been girls, who usually become victims of traffickers around age 12, Allen said. He estimated that 100,000 children are still involved in sex trafficking in the U.S.
Within 48 hours of hitting the streets, one-third of runaways are lured into prostitution or pornography, according to research conducted by the Klaas Kids Foundation, a nonprofit established to help find and rescue missing children.