DETROIT (WWJ) – Michigan continues to be a haven for sex trafficking.
The FBI says its annual sting operation, Cross Country X, has busted 239 sex traffickers and rescued 82 minors being forced to work as child prostitutes.
Margaret Reddy, with the Detroit FBI Violent Crimes branch, said they ran the operation in three locations in Michigan, where 19 minors and 12 sex trafficking suspects were located.
“It’s mainly young girls, mainly between the ages of 12 and 17. A lot of these young girls are runaways from home. They either have very dysfunctional home environments or they’re abused at home,” she said. “Generally what they do is they’re picked up on the street by criminals who decide to use them as prostitutes. They’re generally using the internet to market these young women — young children, actually.”
The busts took place at hotels, truck stops and street corners across the U.S. and in several other countries. In Canada, as part of a corresponding effort called Northern Spotlight, authorities recovered 16 children, while in Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines, authorities recovered 25 children, including a 2-year-old girl.
Minors recovered during the operation are now receiving victim assistance.
“They are never arrested,” said Reddy. “They are either turned over to a social services agency or to their parents.”
Examples of stories from various cities that took part in Operation Cross Country X:
• Detroit Division
Federal and local law enforcement recovered a 17-year-old girl who had been reported from her placement by the state. The girl, who was recovered as part of Cross Country IX last year, was found after investigators saw an ad with her real photo on a website advertising sexual services. An undercover investigator made arrangements to meet the girl and recovered her when she arrived at the hotel. During an interview with investigators, she indicated another juvenile female was located in a vehicle waiting outside. A surveillance team located the second juvenile (also 17 years old) in a vehicle engaged in illicit acts with a male. Both girls admitted to being trafficked by the same female suspect. The two girls lived at home with one of their mothers and the female suspect.
• Milwaukee Division
Through a website advertisement, an undercover agent went to a home where two children, aged 16 and 17, were recovered. The girls indicated they were sisters and were being pimped out by their mother. The girls also informed authorities that their mother was allegedly renting out the girls’ brother’s room to a man who was a registered sex offender.
• Atlanta Division
Authorities arrested two adults (prostitute and pimp) after pursing a lead that appeared to offer the services of juveniles. While there were no juveniles present, the two arrested both had active warrants related to first-degree murder, human trafficking of a child, procuring a minor for prostitution, racketeering, and possession and transmission of child pornography. The adult prostitute and pimp were subjects out of Orlando. They, along with two other individuals, are alleged to have trafficked two juvenile females (14 and 15 years old), forcing them into prostitution and providing them with drugs. The 14-year-old was later found dead of an overdose.
The TICAC, a task force composed of the Royal Thai Police and the Police and the Department of Special Investigation, arrested an American in Thailand. The registered sex offender is alleged to have coerced five juvenile Filipino females, ages 14 to 16, to take illicit photos of themselves and send them to him via the Internet. TICAC will continue the investigation, as there may be more victims who have had contact with the American.
During operations in the Philippines, local law enforcement recovered two boys, ages five and 11, and one girl from a location being used to house a website-based service. The girl was 2 years old. Authorities arrested five adults who ran a web-streaming service for individuals who would pay for access to livestreaming sexual abuse, as well as access to the children for purpose of illegal sexual acts. The investigation continues to identify additional suspects.