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WASHINGTON — Authorities rescued 105 children, including one in Toledo, who were forced into prostitution and arrested 150 pimps and others in a three-day law enforcement sweep in 76 American cities, the FBI said today. The victims, almost all girls, range in age from 13 to 17.
The largest numbers of children rescued were in San Francisco, Detroit, Milwaukee, Denver and New Orleans. The campaign, known as Operation Cross Country, was conducted under the FBI’s Innocence Lost initiative.
It was not immediately known if any of northwest Ohio's 22 arrests on charges related to prostitution involved minors, David Dustin, spokesman for the FBI's Toledo office, said.
"I am grateful for the continued efforts to rescue victims from criminals who profit from these detestable crimes," Ohio Rep. Teresa Fedor said in a released statement. "It is imperative for lawmakers and law enforcement to remain committed to protecting Ohioans from the scourge of human trafficking."
Some 230 agencies participated in what was known as the Operation Cross Country enforcement campaign, including area agencies involved with the FBI Northwest Ohio Violent Crimes Against Children Task Force.
"There's some ongoing investigations which I really can't get into. But typically with the identification and recovery of a child, oftentimes it may trigger the start of a case," Mr. Dustin said. "And it may take awhile to actually develop that case to where someone's charged."
The FBI said the campaign has resulted in rescuing 2,700 children since 2003.
“Child prostitution remains a persistent threat to children across the country,” Ron Hosko, assistant director of the bureau’s criminal investigative division, told a press conference.
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 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,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said during a Senate Finance Committee hearing last month. Wyden co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.