Co-ordinated raids across 76 US cities rescued 105 children involved in sex trafficking and exploitation, in what is the largest enforcement action against underage prostitution by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The undercover operation launched on Friday resulted in the arrests of 150 pimps over the course of three days. The victims were teenagers aged 13 to 17 years old, authorities said on Monday.
“Child prostitution remains a persistent threat to children across America,” said Ron Hosko, assistant director of the FBI’s criminal investigative division.
“This operation serves as a reminder that these abhorrent crimes can happen anywhere and that the FBI remains committed to stopping this cycle of victimisation and holding the criminals who profit from this exploitation accountable.”
An estimated 240,000 children in the US are considered at risk of sexual exploitation. Mr Hosko said that most victims come from either foster homes or are considered runaways, calling them “children with a void”. Once the pimp identifies that void they make every attempt to fill it, creating a dependency between the child and the perpetrator, he added.
The sweep was carried out by the FBI in partnership with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. It targeted truck stops, casinos and motels as well as social media sites to track child prostitution activity.
Since its creation in 2003, the FBI’s Innocence Lost National Initiative has resulted in the identification and recovery of more than 2,700 children who have been sexually exploited.
The largest number of children – 12 – were recovered in San Francisco and the most alleged pimps – 18 – were arrested in Detroit.