Nationwide Operation Leads FBI to 200 Sex Trafficking Victims, 59 Missing Children
Nationwide Operation Leads FBI to 200 Sex Trafficking Victims, 59 Missing Children

By Katabella Roberts

More than 200 sex trafficking victims were discovered during a 14-day nationwide child exploitation and human trafficking operation conducted by FBI agents in July.

Known as Operation Cross Country, the enforcement campaign also led to the identification or arrest of 126 suspects of child sexual exploitation and human trafficking offenses, and 68 suspects of trafficking were identified or arrested, the agency said.

The operation—which involved nearly every FBI field office, other federal agencies, state and local police, and social services agencies across the country—also located 59 minor victims of child sex trafficking and sexual exploitation, and another 59 children who had been reported missing.

“Human trafficking is a grave violation of human rights that preys on the most vulnerable members of our society,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement announcing the arrests and recoveries. “The FBI’s actions against this threat never waver as we continue to send our message that these atrocities will not be tolerated.”

Meanwhile, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the latest operation, which is now in its 13th year, builds on the “tremendous work the FBI has undertaken over many years to rescue minor victims and arrest those responsible for these unspeakable crimes.”

‘Most Vulnerable Members of Our Society’

“Sex traffickers exploit and endanger some of the most vulnerable members of our society and cause their victims unimaginable harm,” he said. “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners across the country to prevent human trafficking; increase detection, investigation, and prosecution of human trafficking crimes; and expand support and services to protect and empower survivors.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray speaks at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, on Jan. 31, 2022. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

The FBI-led initiative was also done in partnership with the child protection organization, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), and focused on “identifying and locating victims of sex trafficking and investigating and arresting individuals and criminal enterprises involved in both child sex and human trafficking.”

In 2022 alone, NCMEC received more than 19,000 reports of possible child sex trafficking, according to its website, while roughly one in six of the more than 25,000 cases of children reported missing to NCMEC in 2022 who had run away were likely victims of child sex trafficking.

Republican lawmakers have consistently raised concerns that the immigration crisis at the U.S.–Mexico border is worsening child trafficking in the United States.

Border Crisis and Child Trafficking

In April, a whistleblower told congressional lawmakers that the United States federal government, whether intentionally or unintentionally, has become the “middleman in a large scale, multi-billion-dollar, child trafficking operation run by bad actors seeking to profit off the lives of children,” at the southern border.

The whistleblower told lawmakers that she has seen evidence of supposed “sponsors” of unaccompanied minors at the border actually being predators looking to gather human cargo.

According to the Federal Human Trafficking 2022 report (pdf), in the federal human trafficking cases filed in 2022, 85 percent of foreign national victims were trafficked into the United States; 69 percent in sex trafficking cases and 15 percent in forced labor cases.

The FBI said the victims discovered during July’s two-week operation were provided with emergency food and clothing, transportation to receive emergency services, and help locating shelter or housing as well as crisis intervention.

“Human traffickers prey on the most vulnerable members of our society, and their crimes scar victims—many of them children—for life,” Mr. Wray said.

“This operation would not be possible without the commitment and collaboration from our state and local law enforcement partners, and it demonstrates our continued focus on actively pursuing the criminals responsible for these heinous violations and connecting those impacted with dedicated victim services and resources,” he added.

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