In a joint mission between the the St. Louis FBI office, local police, and national agencies, 84 children were identified and rescued from human trafficking. The effort dubbed “Operation Cross Country,” focused on freeing captives being forced into sex work.
Special Agent in Charge for the FBI St. Louis Division, Jay Greenberg said, “Human trafficking, which is really modern-day slavery, is a top priority for the FBI.”
According to Greenberg, there were two intents to the operations: help the child victims of sex trafficking and apprehend the responsible parties. While the youngest child found was 11 years old, the average age of the rescued children was 15.
85 Suspects were arrested or identified on charges of human trafficking and/or child sexual exploitation.
Greenberg stated that a number of the children rescued in Cross Country were lured by predators online. He said:
“We see vulnerable children every single year. So, what we’re asking the public to look out for is children who are either in a situation where there is financial distress, there is lack of a supportive family or there’s some other stressor. So, those kids just aren’t old enough to make good decisions for themselves. Make sure they’re not friending anybody or talking to someone in the digital world if they don’t know them in the physical world. The internet is the primary threat, vulnerability, facing these children and we really need to help those kids make good decisions on how they’re using their internet access so that they’re not subjected to these internet trackers… there’s a great deal of outreach from social media and that’s frequently how the contact is made.”
Greenberg added that 141 adult victims of trafficking were also discovered. He continued by saying, “The vulnerable faces change every single year, but the problem remains the same.”
Currently, the FBI is not choosing to release the identities of any of the rescued victims or their captures at this time.