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Over 200 Sex Trafficking Victims Rescued

The FBI's "Operation Cross Country" recently recovered 59 child trafficking victims and identified more than 125 suspects. While the 13-year operation has saved hundreds, the sex trafficking industry continues to grow.

By August 22, 2023No Comments

The FBI recently rescued over 200 sex trafficking victims, including 59 victims of child sex trafficking and sexual exploitation and 59 actively missing children, in its 13th annual iteration of “Operation Cross Country”—a collaborative effort to recover victims and apprehend offenders.

More than 125 suspects of child sexual exploitation and human trafficking were identified or arrested.

13 years of “Operation Cross Country”

The two-week nationwide initiative originated in 2003 and concentrates focus, time, and resources to gather intelligence, build criminal cases against traffickers, dismantle criminal networks that facilitate exploitation, identify and recover sexually exploited minors, and offer victims ongoing support.

“Operation Cross Country” involves coordination between numerous federal, state, and local agencies across the United States. The FBI works with local task forces and partners to identify specific areas where trafficking is prevalent and dedicate their efforts to rescuing victims from those areas.

A crucial and ongoing partner in the initiative is The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). Since it was founded in 1984, NCMEC has assisted in recovering more than 400,000 missing children.

The operation has yielded significant success in past years—recovering 141 adult victims of human trafficking, 84 minor victims of child sex trafficking, and 37 missing children in August of 2022. The youngest victim was age 11.

Related: I Was Groomed Into Sex Trafficking at 14 by My Boyfriend (VIDEO)

Agencies also work to empower and protect victims by offering support and services as they work to rebuild their lives.

FBI Director Christopher Wray emphasized, “Human traffickers prey on the most vulnerable members of our society, and their crimes scar victims—many of them children—for life. The FBI’s commitment to combating this threat will never waver, and we will continue to send our message that these atrocities will not be tolerated.”

The FBI allocates resources to a multidisciplinary team of victim specialists that provide services based on the individual needs of victims—like crisis intervention, transportation to receive emergency services, food, and clothing, shelter and housing, and job placement. Specialists also serve as liaisons between the victims and the investigative team.

Regina Thompson, assistant director of the Victim Services Division, shared, “Our victim specialists, victim service coordinators, child and adolescent forensic interviewers, and other victim service professionals work collaboratively with special agents to ensure a trauma-informed, victim-centered approach is taken when engaging with victims. This is especially important when engaging with victims of human trafficking as it is a very complex, traumatic crime.”

FBI Newark Special Agent-in-Charge James Dennehy also emphasized the importance of ensuring victims are protected and supported after their rescue. “When we open a sex-trafficking investigation, our immediate goal is to rescue the victim and do all we can to help them get food, clothing, and a safe place to sleep. Then we begin the long-term process of getting them health care, financial assistance, and help beginning their lives again. Meanwhile, we pursue and charge anyone tied to the sex-trafficking trade and criminal enterprises profiting off the victims. It’s a common misconception that our only focus is making an arrest.”

Michelle DeLaune, President and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, shared, “Behind every statistic, there is a person with dreams, aspirations, and the right to live a life free from child sex trafficking and exploitation. As a society, we must work together to ensure the protection, support, and empowerment of those impacted by this heinous crime.”

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Fighting sex trafficking every day

Sex trafficking is a big business, generating an estimated $99 billion annually. By some estimates, 4.8 million people are trapped or forced into sexual exploitation globally, and more than 1 in 5 victims of sex trafficking are children.

According to a report of prosecuted trafficking cases, the most common pre-existing conditions that make underage sex trafficking victims vulnerable to trafficking are, in order of likelihood:

  1. Having run away from home (63%)
  2. Being in foster care (22%)
  3. Having substance dependency (18%)
  4. Experiencing homelessness (9%)
  5. Having been trafficked in the past (9%)

The numbers are staggering—but it’s also important to remember that each of those numbers represents a real person who suffers at the hand of their exploiter every single day.

Michelle DeLaune, president and CEO of The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said, “The success of Operation Cross County reinforces what NCMEC sees every day. Children are being bought and sold for sex in communities across the country by traffickers, gangs and even family members.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray also emphasized, “Unfortunately, such crimes—against both adults and children—are far more common than most people realize.”

According to the 2021 Federal Human Trafficking Report from the Human Trafficking Institute, more than half of new human trafficking victims identified were minors, and 92% of all human trafficking criminal cases filed were of sex trafficking.

“Operation Cross Country” draws national attention to the issue of trafficking, but the FBI and its partners don’t just fight trafficking for two weeks out of the year—they work to investigate and stop it every day. And you can do your part, too.

The role porn plays in sex trafficking

Sex trafficking is legally defined as a situation in which “a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age.” That means that sex trafficking doesn’t always involve kidnapping or physical force like we often see portrayed in movies.

Get The Facts

Sex trafficking is a complex global issue. But here’s a simple concept to consider—the buying and selling of individuals, including children, wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t a demand for it.

Porn fuels the demand for sex trafficking and vice versa. The porn industry is undeniably and inseparably connected to sex trafficking. Here’s some shocking research to consider:

Understanding the research can help individuals recognize the role that even seemingly harmless porn consumption plays in the issue of sex trafficking worldwide. The two issues aren’t separate—in many ways, they’re actually one in the same.

Considering before consuming pornography can help stop the demand for sex trafficking. After all, isn’t one person exploited one too many?

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