Aug 15, 2022 - Politics & Policy

FBI locates 121 minors, 141 adults in nationwide human trafficking bust

Photo of a large FBI seal hanging from a wall

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

An FBI operation has located 37 missing children and 84 minors who were victims of child sex trafficking and child sexual exploitation offenses, the Department of Justice announced Monday.

Driving the news: The FBI worked with state and local partners to track down the victims during a nationwide enforcement campaign, dubbed "Operation Cross Country," that targeted child sex and human trafficking.

  • During the two-week period in August, FBI special agents, intelligence analysts, victim specialists and child adolescent forensic interviewers worked with 200 state, local and federal partners — as well as National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's (NCMEC) — to execute 391 operations, according to the DOJ.
  • The FBI and its partners identified or arrested 85 suspects of child sexual exploitation and human trafficking offenses. The youngest victim identified was 11 years old.  
  • Agents and investigators also located 141 adult victims of human trafficking.

What's next: The DOJ said victim specialists will be made available to help survivors access necessary resources, including crisis intervention, emergency food and clothing, transportation for emergency services and shelter or housing.

The big picture: Child sex trafficking has become a major criminal enterprise that continues to grow in the U.S. In 2021, the NCMEC tipline received 29.3 million reports of suspected child sexual exploitation — up from 21.7 million reports in 2020.

  • Children who run away make up a majority of missing child cases reported to NCMEC and are at high risk of being preyed upon by sex traffickers, according to the nonprofit.
  • The center notes in its 2021 impact report that of the more than 25,000 cases of children who had run away and were reported missing to NCMEC in 2021, 1 in 6 were likely victims of child sex trafficking.
  • NCMEC data also shows that Black children remain vastly overrepresented among missing children.
  • It's a consequence of longtime economic discrimination against Black people and structural racism such as redlining, making them more vulnerable to traffickers, notes the Polaris Project, a non-governmental organization that works to combat human trafficking.

What they're saying: "Human trafficking is among the most heinous crimes the FBI encounters," FBI director Christopher Wray said in a statement.  "Unfortunately, such crimes — against both adults and children — are far more common than most people realize."

  • "Children are being bought and sold for sex in communities across the country by traffickers, gangs and even family members," added NCMEC President and CEO Michelle DeLaune.
  • "This national operation highlights the need for all child serving professionals to continue to focus on the wellbeing of children and youth to prevent them from being targeted in the first place."
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