WASHINGTON - The FBI conducted a monthlong sweep known as Operation Independence Day that targeted sex traffickers and helped save minors across the country, the agency announced Thursday.
The sting happened in July and resulted in the identification of 21 minors, rescue of 82 minors and arrest of 67 suspected traffickers. It also prompted 60 federal investigations.
“The FBI is fiercely focused on recovering child victims and arresting the sex traffickers who exploit them,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement. “Through operations like this, the FBI helps child victims escape the abusive life of sex trafficking.”
A sex-trafficking suspect is in handcuffs during Operation Independence Day in the Houston area.
FBI agents relied on more than 400 law enforcement agencies working on the FBI Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Forces in each of the 56 field offices for the bureau. The sweep included undercover operations.
In total 161 operations were conducted around the country, according to the agency, and 33 field offices helped recover or ID the juveniles.
Here are the number of recoveries or identifications from each area:
Kansas City: 2
Las Vegas: 14
Little Rock: 1
Los Angeles: 4
New Haven: 1
New Orleans: 1
San Antonio: 4
San Diego: 4
San Francisco: 2
Washington Field: 2
The FBI said that it worked with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) to identify young runaways and missing children and juveniles who might have been trafficked.
In the past, FBI agents conducted weeklong sweeps nationwide under the name Operation Cross Country. But this year, FBI officers had a longer window to plan and coordinate operations as part of the Innocence Lost National Initiative.
The agency said the goal with Operation Independence Day was to “develop richer leads and intelligence, and more robust cases.”
The FBI, NCMEC and the Department of Justice’s Child and Exploitation and Obscenity Section launched that initiative in 2003 to combat sex trafficking in the U.S. Since then, the 86 task forces associated with the program have led to the recovery and identification of more than 6,600 child victims and more than 2,700 criminal convictions of traffickers.
One major aspect of the trafficking cases is the placement of victim specialists on operational teams, the agency said. The mission of those specialists is to give victims the resources to help them in their situation. But those specialists also serve as mediators between “victim-witnesses” and investigators.
“Our agents, intelligence analysts, professional staff and victim specialists work tirelessly before, during and after these operations to make sure that victims get the help they need to reclaim their lives,” Wray said.
This story was reported from Los Angeles.