Five human trafficking victims were rescued and 46 arrests were made in a Houston-area sting, dubbed “Operation Patriot,” according to officials.
The arrests took place over a four-day span in September, said Fort Bend County, Texas, District Attorney Brian Middleton in a statement to news outlets on Oct. 3.
The first sting occurred in Missouri City, Texas, after undercover officers identified and arrested alleged human traffickers and individuals who were looking to procure sex, also known as “Johns,” said the office, as reported by the Houston Chronicle. A second sting resulted in arrests two days later in Stafford, Texas.
“In only four days, and with unprecedented challenges brought on by COVID-19, Operation Patriot took huge strides in eliminating the sex-trafficking trade in our county,” Middleton said. “In only four days, five lives were saved.”
Individuals face charges including human trafficking-related charges including prostitution, promotion of prostitution, and felony drug charges, Middleton said.
“Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery that preys on the most vulnerable, particularly children and young adults,” said Assistant District Attorney Claire Andresen. “The focus on identifying and arresting sex buyers combatted the ‘demand’ side of human trafficking while the operation simultaneously worked to eliminate the ‘supply’ side.”
Middleton issued a warning to would-be offenders.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—if you are engaged in human trafficking in any way—we are coming for you, and we will be relentless,” he said.
According to the Chronicle, citing the DA’s office, more than a dozen law enforcement agencies were involved in the operations.
Last week, the head of the U.S. Marshals Service said that more than 1,300 missing children have been rescued by the agency since 2016.
“These are kids that are in particular danger as a result of either being victims of violent crime or because of who they are. For example, some of them may be in the middle of gang affiliations or in the midst of drug abusers or in the middle of some bad situations involving people who have violent tendencies and things of that sort,” U.S. Marshals director Donald Washington told Fox News.
“There are a lot of them in the country at any given time,” he continued. “For example, today I looked at the number, and we have 21,000 active missing persons under 18 cases open today. So there are a lot of them.”
Any information about missing or endangered children should be reported to local police offices or to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-The-Lost. Information about violent fugitives can be provided to the U.S. Marshals Service at (504) 589-6872, via email at email@example.com, or with the USMS tips app. Crimestoppers GNO may also be contacted with tips at (504) 822-1111.