In Ohio, a collaborative effort between the U.S. Marshals Service and state law enforcement has chalked up a victory in the war on child trafficking after "Operation Safety Net" recovered 25 missing children in its first two weeks of operation.
But the search is far from over.
The ongoing effort, first announced on Aug. 6, so far has found missing children and teens from all over the state and in Florida. Based in Cleveland, the operation has extended into Akron, Mansfield, Euclid, and Willoughby, the agency shared in a press release, reported WBTV.
The victims are aged between 13 and 18, and some were located as far away as Miami, Florida.
Alarmingly, 25 percent of the children recovered in the operation's first month were confirmed to be victims of human trafficking or prostitution.
"These are kids that have been abused, neglected," U.S. Marshal Pete Elliott told WOIO. "Sometimes the situations they ... they go to, believe it or not, may be better than the situations they left from. We’ve had some cases where the mother and or father, or both, may have been prostituting their own child."
Elliott explained that the assembled task force is trying to play its role in eradicating the scourge of child trafficking. "A number of these children have gone to the hospital after we’ve recovered them to get checked out," he said, "so again, this is something we take very seriously."
Despite the effort being, in Elliott's words, "unchartered territory" for the Marshals, it's also been effective. "I’ll tell you this, it will be something we’ll be doing every year," he added.
However, there is still more work to be done. There are approximately 200 children reported missing in Northeast Ohio, and the USMS aims to find all of them.
An estimated 460,000 children are reported missing in the United States every single year, according to the FBI's National Crime Information Center. There has never been a better time to intensify the search than now.
Human traffickers actively target vulnerable minors, recruit children who are already missing, or target kids who are neglected at home and can be lured away, Suzanne Lewis-Johnson, a former FBI agent, now CEO at RAHAB Ministries in Ohio, told USA Today. "Right now, I believe our children are more vulnerable to traffickers than they’ve ever been," she added.