- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 15, 2015

The FBI has rescued 149 sexually exploited children and made more than 150 arrests as the result of a recent human trafficking operation that the bureau is calling its biggest ever.

State and local law enforcement groups in 135 cities from coast to coast worked together with federal authorities in the first half of October to conduct Operation Cross Country XI — “the largest in the nine-year history of the initiative,” the FBI said on Wednesday.

The bureau said in a statement that actions taken during this year’s installment of the annual campaign allowed authorities to get sexually exploited children as young as 12 years old off of the streets.

“When kids are treated as a commodity in seedy hotels and on dark roadsides, we must rescue them from their nightmare and severely punish those responsible for that horror. We simply must continue to work with our partners to end the scourge of sex trafficking in our country,” said FBI Director James Comey.

In all the FBI said that 149 minors were rescued, including three transgender children and three boys; 153 pimps were arrested nationwide at stings that occurred at hotels, casinos, truck stops and other venues prone to becoming hubs of prostitution.

“Runaway juveniles are particularly vulnerable to being led into prostitution because they run away from possibly a bad family situation and then get pulled into drugs or a lifestyle that leads to prostitution,” said Crystal Nosal, a spokeswoman for the Alexandria Police Department in Virginia, which assisted in the effort.

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“You can’t keep your eyes closed. You always have to look for it, think of it as a possibility of occurring, so that if you do encounter a juvenile, you’re asking the right questions,” she told DC’s Fox 5.

Investigators from 53 FBI field offices and 73 Child Exploitation Task Force groups worked together to coordinate raids as part of the operation before this year’s campaign wrapped up last week. The greater Detroit region was reported to be the most successful with respect to numbers — authorities there recovered 19 underage victims and a dozen alleged pimps.

Raw video footage taken during operations earlier this month in Alexandria and Jackson, Mississippi was released by the FBI and showed agents preparing to make arrests while reviewing sex ads that had been posted on the Washington, DC-area section of Backpages.com, an escort site.

In Conway, Arkansas, authorities arrested five women for prostitution as a result of propositions that were orchestrated on the Web.

“Once the women met up with the officer at a local hotel and made it clear they wanted to trade sex for money they were arrested,” agents there explained to KTHV News.

Operation Cross Country has helped the FBI rescue 4,800 children since 2003 and obtain more than 2,000 convictions, the bureau said.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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