The FBI on Monday announced its agents working Operation Cross Country had rescued 84 minors who were victims of sex trafficking. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo
Aug. 16 (UPI) -- More than 80 minors were rescued this month amid a two-week nationwide operation focused on locating victims of sex trafficking, authorities said.
The annual FBI-led Operation Cross Country is a nationwide campaign that seeks to identity and locate victims of sex trafficking, and was held during the first two-weeks of this month and involved some 200 state, local and federal partners.
In announcing the results of the operation on Monday, the FBI said law enforcement agents rescued 84 minors who were either victims of child sex trafficking or sexual exploitation.
An additional 37 missing children were also found during the operation, authorities said.
The FBI said the average age of the victims found was 15.5 years old with the youngest victim being 11.
"Human trafficking is among the most heinous crimes the FBI encounters," FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement. "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."
Agents also identified or arrested 85 people on suspicion of committing child sexual exploitation and human trafficking offenses.
Among the investigations, authorities located 19 missing children and arrested four traffickers in Atlanta alone.
"The Justice Department is committed to doing everything in our power to combat the insidious crimes of human trafficking that devastate survivors and their families, said Attorney General Merrick Garland.
According to the Human Trafficking Institute, which seeks to stamp out modern slavery, there were 449 victims identified in human trafficking cases filed last year in the United States, with minors accounting for 57% of all victims.
In sex trafficking cases, minors accounted for 66% of all victims, the institute said.
Michelle DeLaune, president and chief executive of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, said that the success of Operation Cross Country proves what she sees every day, which is that "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," DeLaune said. "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 being targeted in the first place."