SAN FRANCISCO (CBS/AP/BCN) — Authorities rescued 105 children who were forced into prostitution and arrested 150 pimps and others in a three-day law enforcement sweep in 76 U.S. cities, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said Monday. The victims, almost all girls, ranged in age from 13 to 17.
During the raids, the FBI and local police agencies rescued 12 children and arrested 21 pimps in the San Francisco Bay Area, according to the FBI.
San Francisco FBI Special Agent in Charge David Johnson said that the Bay Area had the highest number of child prostitutes who were rescued in the country during last week’s sweep known as Operation Cross Country. The nationwide crackdown on child sex trafficking was conducted under the FBI’s Innocence Lost initiative.
The FBI said the Bay Area accounted for 11.4% of the rescued children and 11.3% of the total number of alleged pimps arrested nationwide.
Detroit and Milwaukee had the second-highest number of child prostitutes rescued with 10 each.
“The issue and crime of child prostitution is not going away anytime soon,” Johnson said. “The sexual exploitation of children could be happening in your neighborhood, so we need the public’s help in combating this unthinkable, yet real, crime,” Johnson explained.
The FBI said the 17 people arrested in the Bay Area were currently in local custody. Under normal protocol, district attorneys and federal prosecutors will confer on what charges might be filed and whether the suspects should be charged in state or federal court.
The Bay Area portion of the nationwide sweep, carried out between Wednesday and Sunday, included arrests on the street and at hotels, authorities said.
Law enforcement agencies from Alameda, Contra Costa and Sonoma counties participated, as well as police from 13 cities, which included: Concord, Daly City, Hayward, Oakland, Petaluma, Richmond, Rohnert Park, San Francisco, San Jose, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Rosa and South San Francisco, according to the FBI.
The FBI said its campaign has resulted in rescuing 2,700 children nationwide since 2003.
The investigations and convictions of 1,350 have led to life imprisonment for 10 pimps and the seizure of more than $3.1 million in assets.
For the past decade, the FBI has been attacking the problem in partnership with a non-profit group, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
John Ryan, the head of the center, called the problem “an escalating threat against America’s children.”
The U.S. Justice Department has estimated that nearly 450,000 children run away from home each year and that one-third of teens living on the street will be lured toward prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home.
Congress has introduced legislation that would require state law enforcement, foster care and child welfare programs to identify children lured into sex trafficking as victims of abuse and neglect eligible for the appropriate protections and services.
“In much of the country today if a girl is found in the custody of a so-called pimp she is not considered to be a victim of abuse, and that’s just wrong and defies common sense,” U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said during a Senate Finance Committee hearing last month. Wyden co-sponsored the bill with U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.
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