Children across the country are being forced into prostitution in alarming numbers, according to federal and local authorities who recently completed a series of raids.
In the last three days, the FBI and police from 29 cities rescued 47 children from 73 alleged pimps and more than 500 others who authorities say sought to exploit them. Among those children saved: a 12-year-old from Texas; a 13-year-old from Ohio; and a 14-year-old from Michigan.
"This is organized crime, these people are moving kids from city to city," said Ernie Allen, president and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "They are involved in 21st century slavery. ? This is a problem that is happening on Main Street USA."
These children were in nightmarish conditions, said Matthew Friedrich, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's criminal division.
"Make no mistake, the minors who were recovered, were the victims of the worst kind of sexual exploitation," he said.
The cities targeted included: Alexandria, Va; Atlanta; Las Vegas; Miami; Dallas; Houston; Honolulu; Phoenix; and San Diego.
The Justice Department and FBI have increased their focus on the child sex slave problem since 2003 through a project known as the Innocence Lost National Initiative. The Justice Department estimates that as many as 300,000 U.S. children are engaged in prostitution, most of them runaways.
"Clearly, it's in the tens of thousands," Allen said in response to a question from ABC News.
More than 365 suspects have been convicted and 575 children have been rescued.
FBI Deputy Director John S. Pistole vowed today that the effort would continue. "Those that exploit children should know they will be brought to justice," Pistole said.