It's called Operation Cross Country because the sexual exploitation of minors doesn't stop at state (or country, or continent) borders. The annual FBI-led sweep aims to recover children and arrest pimps en masse—and raise awareness of the sex trafficking of youth—as part of the agency's Innocent Lost Initiative. According to the FBI, the eighth iteration of Operation Cross Country, which took place this past week, was the largest yet: 168 juveniles were recovered and 281 pimps were arrested, in 106 cities across the country. Denver contributed to those numbers with 18 minors being rescued—the most among all 54 cities involved—and 11 pimps arrested.
The statistics are shocking but sadly unsurprising. As I reported in "The Girls Next Door" (April 2014), an expose of the sex trafficking of minors in Colorado, up to 300,000 U.S. children are at risk of being trafficked each year. As Operation Cross Country shows, sex trafficking isn't just about foreigners being trafficked here; these vulnerable youth are often our own neighborhood kids. As Denver Police Department sergeant Dan Steele (a member of the FBI’s Rocky Mountain Innocence Lost Task Force) told me while I was reporting the story, "We’re talking about our own girls, our own daughters, nieces, sisters that are being involved and trafficked here."
Unfortunately, as encouraging as the news of this latest bust is, trafficking remains an ongoing problem. Steele says law enforcement is seeing an increase in the number of youth recovered, but he also admits, "Whether that’s because we’re better at looking at it, better at identifying it, or because people are seeing an opportunity to make money, I don’t know."
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Follow associate editor Daliah Singer on Twitter at @daliahsinger.