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Operation Cross Country XI rescues 84 sex trafficking victims, 120 traffickers

WASHINGTON — As a result of Operations Cross County, 84 sexually exploited juveniles have been rescued. A total of 120 traffickers have been arrested. Operation Cross Country is the FBI’s annual law enforcement action focused on recovering underage victims of prostitution and drawing the public’s attention to the problem of sex trafficking at home and abroad.

human trafficker
The FBI catches a human trafficker as she is trying to escape in her tractor trailer. Image courtesy of the FBI.

Now in its 11th iteration, Operation Cross Country has expanded beyond the United States, with Canada, the United Kingdom, Cambodia, the Philippines, and Thailand undertaking similar operations. Their efforts were coordinated with the FBI and its local, state, and federal law enforcement partners -- along with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) -- during the four-day law enforcement action that ended October 15.

“There are many more victims that we need to reach,” said FBI Denver Special Agent in charge Calvin Shivers.

“We at the FBI have no greater mission than to protect our nation’s children from harm,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “Unfortunately, the number of traffickers arrested -- and the number of children recovered -- reinforces why we need to continue to do this important work.”

This year’s Operation Cross Country involved 55 FBI field offices and 78 FBI-led Child Exploitation Task Forces composed of more than 500 law enforcement agencies. Hundreds of law enforcement personnel took part in sting operations in hotels, casinos, truck stops, and through social media sites frequented by pimps, prostitutes, and their customers.

human trafficking rescue
Young girls being rescued from human trafficking. Image courtesy of the FBI.

All of the recovered minors were offered services by specialists who are either part of the FBI’s Victim Services Division or members of other local and state law enforcement agencies. More than 100 victim specialists provided on-scene services that included crisis intervention as well as resources for basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter, and medical attention.

During operations by FBI Denver’s Rocky Mountain Innocence Lost Task Force, for example, a 3-month-old girl and her five-year-old sister were recovered after a friend who was staying with the family made a deal with an undercover task force officer to sell both children for sex in exchange for $600.

“The threat of child sex trafficking is something the FBI works on every single day,” said Calvin Shivers, special agent in charge of the Denver Division. “Operation Cross Country gives us the opportunity to shine a light on this threat and to educate the public.” He added that while the focused law enforcement action has “an immediate impact” of recovering a significant number of juvenile victims, “we recognize that there is a lot more work to be done to identify and recover even more victims.”

“We at the FBI have no greater mission than to protect our nation’s children from harm,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray.

human trafficking rescue
Ali, a victim of human trafficking. The FBI-led multi-agency law enforcement effort is focused on recovering children and holding sex traffickers accountable. Image courtesy of the FBI.

Ali’s Story
Ali grew up in a middle-class suburb outside Philadelphia with parents who loved her and a wide circle of friends. She played sports and was a good student. In high school and in college -- where she received an undergraduate and master’s degree in criminal justice -- she drank alcohol and experimented with marijuana and other drugs, like many of her friends. Then she tried heroin.

William Johnson is a deputy sheriff with the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office and a member of the FBI’s Violent Crimes Against Children Task Force in Philadelphia. One of the task force’s priorities is to combat human trafficking.

Although Johnson says he was just doing his job, Ali credits him with saving her from a life of addiction, prostitution, and being on the streets -- a life, she believes, that would not have lasted much longer. Operation Cross Country is part of the FBI’s Innocence Lost National Initiative, which began in 2003. Since its creation, the program has resulted in the identification and recovery of more than 6,500 children from child sex trafficking and the prosecution of countless traffickers, more than 30 of whom have received life sentences for their crimes.

“Child sex trafficking is happening in every community across America,” said John Clark, the CEO of NCMEC. “We are working to combat this problem every day,” he explained, adding that NCMEC is “proud to work with the FBI on Operation Cross Country to help find and recover child victims.”

“This operation isn't just about taking traffickers off the street,” Wray said. “It’s about making sure we offer help and a way out to these young victims who find themselves caught in a vicious cycle of abuse.”

Published October 19, 2017

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