INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- Officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) announced Wednesday that dozens of minors were recovered and 120 traffickers were arrested as part of "Operation Cross Country XI."
The operation focused on underage human trafficking.
"Our operation actually for the first time expanded out of Marion County, we focused in South Bend, IN, we focused in Ft. Wayne and we focused in Gary, IN and then here," Assistant Special Agent in Charge at FBI's Indianapolis office Gregory Massa said.
In Indiana, officials said there were arrests in Indianapolis, Gary, Ft. Wayne and South Bend, including two traffickers.
“By focusing on the identification of those responsible for commercial sexual exploitation of minors in Indianapolis, we were able to significantly impact online sex trafficking in the area and were able to further develop excellent relationships with our state, local and county law enforcement partners as well as our public health partners,” said Supervisory Special Agent Mike Langeman. “These operations will continue with the goal of locating and removing juveniles from sex trafficking and dismantling those responsible for commercial sexual exploitation.”
This is the 11th iteration of Operation Cross Country. It involved 55 FBI field offices and 78 state and local task forces. International partners from the United Kingdom, Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines participated.
“We at the FBI have no greater mission than to protect our nation’s children from harm. Unfortunately, the number of traffickers arrested - and the number of children recovered - reinforces why we need to continue to do this important work,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “This operation isn't just about taking traffickers off the street. It's about making sure we offer help and a way out to these young victims who find themselves caught in a vicious cycle of abuse."
Agents and officers staged operations in hotels, casinos, truck stops and various websites. Officials say 84 minors were recovered during the operation, the youngest being three months old. The average age of the victims was 15 years old.
The victims are offered medical and mental health counseling in addition to other services.
“You just you know hope and pray that one day that you know something will change within them or you know there's something that we can offer to get them out of the life," Tracy McDaniel, the CEO and founder of Restored Inc. said. The organization works to help young women recovered from sex trafficking. McDaniel said she's helped in three Operation Cross Country efforts.
Last year, Massa said there were 36 occasions where children were sex trafficked and they got the child out of the situation. He said the crime happens year round, as do their efforts to fight it.
"Somewhere along the line it got roped in with that number one it doesn't exist here and number two it only happens with large sporting events. Could not be further form the truth. It happens here, it happens here every night unfortunately," Massa said.
The FBI provided these two stories connected to the investigation, but did not share information on the Indiana-related arrests:
- On Oct. 13, FBI Denver recovered two minor girls - one 3-month-old and one 5-year-old. The subject, a friend of the children's family, offered an undercover officer access to the two children for sexual purposes in exchange for $600. The FBI is working with Child Protective Services to conduct a forensic interview and secure safe placement of the children. The subject was placed under arrest.
- Also on Oct. 13, a 16-year old female victim was recovered by FBI El Paso, after an undercover agent called an online advertisement for entertainment. Shortly thereafter, the agent met with a 21-year-old female, who offered a fee of $200 to engage in sexual intercourse with her and another female, the 16-year-old victim. Further investigations revealed a second adult female drove the minor and the 21-year-old to the undercover’s location. Both female subjects have been arrested on federal charges.
The FBI said there are warning signs of human trafficking you can watch for:
-If you see an unusually large number of people living in a single-family home.
-If you see individuals who go from home to work and straight back with no signs of any kind of social life.
-Frequent police activity at a home or business.
-Assaults, domestic situations, verbal disputes, or thefts. These could involve a trafficking victim being abused and disciplined by a trafficker, a customer having a dispute with a victim, or a client who had money taken during a sex act.
-Locations, such a truck stops, strip clubs, massage parlors, and cheap motels, are havens for prostitutes forced into sex trafficking. Many massage parlors and strip clubs that engage in sex trafficking will have cramped living quarters where the victims are forced to stay.
-An individual with injuries from beatings or weapons; routinely has larges sums of cash on hand.