A large human trafficking investigation in Southern California involving multiple law enforcement agencies successfully recovered 33 missing children during a recent operation.
The FBI announced the conclusion of the investigation this week, and disclosed that there are currently over 1,800 investigations involving missing and exploited children. The investigation was called “Operation Lost Angels” and began on January 11th as a part of Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
While few details were revealed about the cases, the FBI said that at least 8 of the children had been sexually exploited. The agency noted that there has been an increase in child trafficking cases in recent years.
According to a statement from the FBI, “It is not uncommon for victims who are rescued to return to commercial sex trafficking either voluntarily or by force, fraud or coercion. This harmful cycle highlights the challenges victims face and those faced by law enforcement when attempting to keep victims from returning to an abusive situation. Victims may not self-identify as being trafficked or may not even realize they’re being trafficked.”
Assistant FBI Director Kristi K. Johnson told FOX 11 Los Angeles that, “The FBI considers human trafficking modern-day slavery, and the minors engaged in commercial sex trafficking are considered victims. While this operation surged resources over a limited period of time with great success, the FBI and our partners investigate child sex trafficking every day of the year and around the clock.”
Statements from investigators also noted that some of the children needed multiple interventions after returning to whoever was exploiting them. Investigations into numerous suspects have been opened and one suspected human trafficker has been arrested. The FBI also noted that not all of the children were victims of trafficking, for example, one of the children was kidnapped by their parent during a custody battle.
The FBI announced that they made 473 human trafficking arrests last year and initiated 664 investigations across the country.
This is just one of many similar operations that have taken place across the state, and the entire country in recent years.
Over the past five years, the US Marshal Service (USMS) has recovered missing children in 75% of the cases it has received. And of those recovered, 72% were recovered within 7 days. Since 2005, the USMS has recovered more than 2,000 missing children.
Late last year, a massive law enforcement operation in Ohio called Operation Autumn Hope resulted in the arrest of 179 people under suspicion of human trafficking, and the rescue of 109 victims, 45 of whom were missing children. Some victims were as young as 14 or 15 years old.
Another effort, called Operation Stolen Innocence, concluded in Tallahassee, Florida, in November, with the arrest of 170 people.
Investigators are urging victims and people who are aware of victims to speak out. Victims and witnesses can report information to the Human Trafficking Hotline by calling 1-888-373-7888.
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