WASHINGTON,- The FBI rescued nearly 100 exploited children and arrested more than 200 adults in what has become an annual international effort to target sex traffickers.
Operation Cross Country resulted in the recovery of 82 children and arrest of 239 suspects in what likely represents a small portion of child exploitation cases in the country, FBI officials say.
“This is a depressing day in law enforcement,” said FBI Director James Comey, “because this is the world we live in and the work we have to do.”
Comey said the 55 FBI field offices and 74 Child Exploitation Task Forces, which include members of more than 400 law enforcement agencies, took part in sting operations in hotels, casinos, truck stops and other places pimps and their customers abuse children.
The annual three-day operation has been conducted for more than 10 years, and in recent years has expanded to include locations in Canada, Cambodia, the Philippines and Thailand.
Among the adults caught arrested was a mother in Milwaukee who allegedly exploited her two daughters, aged 16 and 17, as well as five adults arrested for operating a web-streaming service offering access to live-streamed child sexual abuse in the Philippines where a 2-year-old girl and two boys, age 11 and 5, were rescued.
The program has resulted in the recovery of more than 6,000 children from sex trafficking, but officials and advocates say the problem remains rampant and generally unknown, requiring better awareness of the issue.
“Teachers, the child welfare system, all these different groups need to have an increased awareness of how to better identify this, what are the indicators they should be looking for,” Staca Shehan, executive director of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, told The Christian Science Monitor. “We need to increase in all different sectors awareness of the crime.”