The FBI and partner agencies rescued 16 minors in a sex-trafficking enforcement sweep. The action, announced Tuesday, is the result of six months of FBI-led training of federal, state and local partners, focused on recognizing and stopping child exploitation ahead of the Super Bowl.
“High-profile special events, which draw large crowds, have become lucrative opportunities for child prostitution criminal enterprises,” said Ron Hosko, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division in a release.
Some of the teens had been reported missing by their families and some victims had been brought to the U.S. from other countries.
"Any time you make a concerted effort to identify victims you will find them," says Teresa Tomassoni, director of programs at FAIR Girls, a Washington D.C.-based non-profit that works with youth survivors of trafficking.
"There have been several initiatives by the FBI to recover victims and arrest perpetrators and I think that's wonderful. I would like to see more regular efforts from all different law enforcement agencies to identify victims," added Tomassoni. She noted that FAIR Girls, and other similar nonprofits, provide training to law enforcement groups to help them identify victims.
Authorities also arrested 45 pimps and their associates, many of whom traveled to New Jersey from other states for the sole purpose of selling sex during Super Bowl weekend, reported the FBI.
The operation was a collaborative effort by the FBI and 50 law enforcement agencies as part of its Innocence Lost National Initiative, which was started in 2003 to target and eliminate child prostitution. More than 3,100 children have been recovered.
Identifying trafficking victims is only the first step, said Tomassoni, who said victims need help accessing emergency shelter and counseling in order to start living independent lives from their traffickers.
The FBI’s victim specialists helped 70 women and children access, food, shelters health care facilities, and other services.
“Through partnerships, enhanced as a result of this operation, we hope to build a lasting framework that helps the community address this problem,” said Michael Harpster, chief of the FBI’s Violent Crimes Against Children Section.
To date, the FBI and its partners have seen 1,400
convictions that brought "lengthy sentences," including 11 life sentences and recovered $3.1 million in assets, the agency said.