This week, the FBI announced a major success in the two-week human trafficking operation called “Operation Cross Country.” The operation, which did indeed take place in multiple places across the country, resulted in the rescue of 121 adolescent victims and 141 adult victims.
The Justice Department said that during the operation, which took place in the first two weeks of August, 84 underage children who were victims of sex trafficking and/or exploitation were located and identified. In addition, 37 children who were reported missing and had active cases were located.
Aside from the rescuing of victims, 85 suspects were “identified or arrested” for crimes related to child sexual exploitation and human trafficking. The suspects who were identified but not arrested will, the Justice Department said, “be subject to additional investigation for potential charges.”
The operation was headed by the FBI but included agents from other federal agencies, as well as state and local police and social services agencies to help the located children.
FBI Director Christopher Wray released a statement on Monday regarding the successful mission. He said, “Human trafficking is among the most heinous crimes the FBI encounters. Unfortunately, such crimes—against both adults and children—are far more common than most people realize. As we did in this operation, the FBI and our partners will continue to find and arrest traffickers, identify and help victims, and raise awareness of the exploitation of our most vulnerable populations.”
Michelle DeLaune, President and CEO National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, also released a statement at the completion of the mission. “The success of Operation Cross County reinforces what NCMEC sees every day,” she said. “Children are being bought and sold for sex in communities across the country by traffickers, gangs and even family members. We’re proud to support the FBI’s efforts to prioritize the safety of children. This national operation highlights the need for all child-serving professionals to continue to focus on the wellbeing of children and youth to prevent them from being targeted in the first place.”
Section Chief Jose Perez oversees violent crime investigations in the FBI. He said, “The initiative really just takes a concentrated period of time where we’re just focused on the problem of child sex trafficking. What we do is we sit down with our local partners and our task forces and identify certain areas where we know sex trafficking is prevalent, and we’ll dedicate resources and efforts to identify and remove victims from those areas.”
The FBI release said, “Det. Sgt. Steve Hope from the Red Bank Police Department was one of the FBI partners who participated in Chattanooga’s Operation Cross Country. He said as a small police department partnering with the FBI is a valuable opportunity to help investigate child predators, working with agencies that can bring additional resources to trafficking and child predator cases.
“’It’s amazing the rush to know you can get these people before they hurt any more children. An agency my size, we don’t have the manpower to do that, but to be part of this task force…the FBI has brought me in as one of their own,’” he said.”
According to data, the average victim age from previous operations is 15.5 years old. The youngest victim located from this operation was 11 years old.