- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Law enforcement officers across the country have rescued 47 children from sexual exploitation and arrested scores of people on prostitution charges since Thursday, federal officials said Monday.

“Sex trafficking of children remains one of the most violent and unconscionable crimes committed in this country,” FBI Deputy Director John S. Pistole said at a news conference announcing the results of “Operation Cross Country II.”

The operation - a nationwide law enforcement sweep conducted Thursday through Saturday - partnered FBI agents with officers from 93 state and local law enforcement agencies in 27 cities from Boston to Anchorage, Alaska.

Along with finding the 47 children, who are mostly girls between 13 and 17 years old, authorities said they arrested 73 people on procurement charges, 518 adults on prostitution charges and 51 people on other related charges.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Matthew Friedrich said those arrested in the sweep will face a combination of local and federal charges.

FBI Deputy Assistant Director Daniel Roberts said investigators trolled Internet sites, truck stops and hotels known for child prostitution. They monitored conversations between reputed pimps on social networking Web sites and used tools, such as wire taps, that are typically associated with organized crime probes.

The sweep is the latest part of the five-year-old “Innocence Lost” initiative involving the FBI, the Justice Department and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that aims to combat sex trafficking of children.

According to the FBI, the initiative has resulted in 574 children being rescued from prostitution and returned to their homes or placed with child protection agencies, and in the convictions of 365 people.

In June, 21 children were rescued from prostitution as a part of the initiative. Authorities said intelligence gathered in that investigation was used in the sweeps over the weekend.

Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said these cases show that child sex trafficking is not unique to Southeast Asia and other far-flung countries.

“Operation Cross Country II is the latest evidence that this is a problem taking place on Main Street USA,” he said. “These kids have become commodities for sale or trade.”

The large majority of children who end up involved in child prostitution are runaways, officials said.

Mr. Allen said 1,000 missing children involved in prostitution have been reported to his organization. He noted a University of Pennsylvania study that concluded as many as 300,000 children in the U.S. are at risk of being forced into prostitution.

Among those rescued in the recent operation was a 17-year-old girl who was found with her 1-year-old baby in a cramped room in Nevada that was furnished only with a couch, Mr. Allen said.