Sixty-nine kids who were being sold for sex on the Internet and on street corners are in custody today after a nationwide "Innocence Lost" prostitution sweep.
One girl picked up in the sweep was just 12 years old, authorities said.
The undercover, 40-city operation was conducted by the FBI and state and local law enforcement over the weekend. Sixteen juveniles were taken off the streets in Seattle alone. In all, 884 people were arrested, including 99 men suspected of being pimps.
The undercover action was dubbed "Operation Cross Country V," and worked like this: local authorities checked websites, truck stops, casinos and streets to identify suspected prostitution operations, focusing especially on those that appeared to be offering underage girls. Then stings were set up, with undercover officers or FBI agents acting as potential customers. Once the bust occurred, the suspects were questioned, and the information gleaned often uncovered prostitution rings that operated across many states.
What happens to the underage girls arrested is up to local authorities. The girls are often placed in protective custody to immediately remove them from the influence of a pimp or madam. Meanwhile, local officials try to locate the social services that can help these girls get off the streets. But typically, authorities say, resources to help these young victims are scant.
One group involved in trying to get young kids out of a life of prostitution is the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "These kids are victims. This is 21st century slavery," Ernie Allen, the President of the Center said.
"We are proud to be a part of this extraordinary partnership to rescue children, save lives and bring the pimps and operators to justice."
The prostitution sweep over the weekend was just the latest in a series of operations to combat child prostitution. Since 2003, the 39 Innocence Lost Task Forces and Working Groups have recovered over 1,200 children from the streets. The investigations and subsequent 625 convictions have resulted in lengthy sentences, including multiple 25-years-to-life sentences and the seizure of more than $3.1 million in assets.
"Child prostitution continues to be a significant problem in our country, as evidenced by the number of children rescued through the continued efforts of our crimes against children task forces," said Shawn Henry, Executive Assistant Director of the FBI's Criminal, Cyber, Response and Service Branch. "There is no work more important than protecting America's children and freeing them from the cycle of victimization."
For more information on the prostitution sweeps, please click HERE.