A three-day sweep of 76 American cities rescued 105 children who were forced into prostitution and arrested 150 adults on charges related to sex trafficking, the FBI said Monday.
The victims, almost all girls, range in age from 13 to 17.
The campaign, known as Operation Cross Country, included 17 arrests in Atlanta of people authorities described as pimps and the recovery of two children.
“Child prostitution remains a persistent threat to children across the country,” Ron Hosko, assistant director of the bureau’s criminal investigative division, told a news conference.
The largest numbers of children rescued as part of the FBI’s Innocence Lost initiative were in Atlanta, San Francisco, Detroit, Milwaukee, Denver and New Orleans.
There was also one arrest in Jacksonville, four arrests in Miami and three children rescued in Tampa, according to the FBI.
In the Portland/Vancouver metropolitan area, authorities arrested four pimps and identified a fifth, plus 13 adult women likely to face prostitution charges, the FBI said in a release.
One baby was found and placed into state custody, authorities said.
The FBI said the campaign has resulted in rescuing 2,700 children since 2003. The investigations and convictions of 1,350 have led to life imprisonment for 10 pimps and the seizure of more than $3.1 million in assets.
For the past decade, the FBI has been attacking the problem in partnership with a non-profit group, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
John Ryan, the head of the center, called the problem “an escalating threat against America’s children.”
The Justice Department has estimated that nearly 450,000 children run away from home each year and that one-third of teens living on the street will be lured toward prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home.
Congress has introduced legislation that would require state law enforcement, foster care and child welfare programs to identify children lured into sex trafficking as victims of abuse and neglect eligible for the appropriate protections and services.
“In much of the country today if a girl is found in the custody of a so-called pimp, she is not considered to be a victim of abuse, and that’s just wrong and defies common sense,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said last month. Wyden co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.