- The Washington Times - Monday, June 23, 2014

FBI Director James Comey announced Monday the arrests of 281 suspected pimps and the rescue of 168 children in a weeklong sting operation aimed at sex trafficking, organized crime’s fastest-growing enterprise.

Many of the rescued children never were reported as missing, despite being under the supervision of the U.S. child welfare system.

“These are not faraway kids in faraway lands,” Mr. Comey said during a press conference. “These are our kids on our street corners, our truck stops, our motels, our casinos. These are America’s children.”

The FBI’s eighth annual sting, called Operation Cross Country, involved nearly 400 state and local law enforcement agencies in covertly monitoring the shadowy underworld of child prostitution by targeting certain streets, truck stops, casinos and websites that advertise online dating or escort services.

The FBI effort has rescued more than 3,600 children overall and has resulted in more than 1,450 felony convictions and the seizure of more than $3.1 million in cash and property.

Most of the rescued children are U.S. citizens, as are those arrested, Mr. Comey said, indicating that the problem is not smuggling from abroad.

About 10 percent of the children were lost in the child welfare system, officials said.

“Many of the children recovered during this operation were never reported missing,” John Ryan, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said at the press conference. “When they go missing from child welfare systems, they are literally flying under the radar. No one is reporting them missing, hence no one is looking for them.”

Mr. Ryan said about one in seven missing children in the U.S. are brought into the sex trade and 67 percent of them are from the child welfare system.

Last year, 627,911 missing person records were entered into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database, and about 40 percent were younger than 18.

In May, the House passed five bills aimed at combating child sex trafficking, which is estimated to be a $9.5 billion industry in the U.S. Among its provisions, the legislation would provide law enforcement with more resources to investigate child trafficking cases, increase efforts to identify which children are most at risk of being exploited, and grant victims access to the Job Corps, a free government education and vocational training program.

“I thank the FBI and law enforcement officers for their tireless efforts to rescue hundreds of children from the horrors of child sex trafficking,” said Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. “Sex traffickers and their buyers rob these children of their innocence and childhood.

“The House has approved several bills to help end human trafficking by ensuring we have the tools needed to hold perpetrators who sell, buy or market children to potential buyers accountable for their heinous crimes. We urge the Senate to act on these bills quickly,” Mr. Goodlatte said.

Law enforcement officials said the suspected pimps will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, citing as a benchmark the January conviction of Paul Bell, a Los Angeles-area gang member who pleaded guilty to sex trafficking and now faces a 30-year prison sentence.

“Targeting and harming America’s children through commercial sex trafficking is a heinous crime, with serious consequences,” Mr. Comey said.

Sex trafficking convictions have yielded 14 life sentences.

Fifty-four FBI field divisions cooperated in Operation Cross Country from Arizona — where the most suspected pimps were apprehended — to Albany, New York. The largest group of children were recovered by the bureau in Denver, where 18 were rescued.

The issue of child sex trafficking and exploitation received renewed international attention this year when the African terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped nearly 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria.


• Kelly Riddell can be reached at kriddell@washingtontimes.com.

• Phillip Swarts can be reached at pswarts@washingtontimes.com.

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