The FBI on Monday said that 200 sex trafficking victims and 37 missing children were found during the first two weeks of August in a nationwide sweep known as Operation Cross Country.
“The initiative really just takes a concentrated period of time where we’re just focused on the problem of child sex trafficking,” said Section Chief Jose Perez, who oversees violent crime investigations with the FBI, according to a press release. “What we do is we sit down with our local partners and our task forces and identify certain areas where we know sex trafficking is prevalent, and we’ll dedicate resources and efforts to identify and remove victims from those areas.”
A news release from the Department of Justice said the FBI, which has faced widespread criticism for its raid targeting former President Donald Trump’s home, located 141 adult victims of human trafficking as well as 84 minor victims. Some 85 suspects were arrested or identified in connection to child sexual exploitation and human trafficking offenses, the agencies said.
“Human trafficking is among the most heinous crimes the FBI encounters,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray, who is facing Republican questions over whether he used a taxpayer-funded government plane for a recent vacation in upstate New York.
“Unfortunately, such crimes—against both adults and children—are far more common than most people realize. As we did in this operation, the FBI and our partners will continue to find and arrest traffickers, identify and help victims, and raise awareness of the exploitation our most vulnerable populations,” he said in the news release.
The FBI Atlanta’s operation, for example, found 19 missing children and resulted in the arrest of four human traffickers, according to the FBI news release. The bureau added that several arrests were made during an operation in Chattanooga, Tennessee, as well as other locations.
The FBI Jacksonville office arrested three individuals after an investigation of human trafficking-related offenses while locating another 46 people for further investigation.
“Children are being bought and sold for sex in communities across the country by traffickers, gangs, and even family members,” Michelle DeLaune, President and CEO National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said in a release. “We’re proud to support the FBI’s efforts to prioritize the safety of children. 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 being targeted in the first place.”