The FBI rescued over 100 sex trafficking victims across the United States in the month of July. According to a press release, the initiative, called “Operation Independence Day” recovered juveniles and arrested 67 suspected traffickers.
“The FBI is fiercely focused on recovering child victims and arresting the sex traffickers who exploit them,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said. “Through operations like this, the FBI helps child victims escape the abusive life of sex trafficking.”
Because of a national initiative, the FBI had a longer time window to implement their plan to save victims. The Houston Field Office worked with the Houston Police Department to search out social media and escort sites for juvenile victims being advertised for commercial sex. Officers set up a fake-date, met at a pre-arranged location, and brought victims in for an interview.
Recoveries occurred in cities throughout the country. Las Vegas, with 14 recoveries, and Dallas, with 13, ranked the highest. The FBI notes that “recovered” means “the removal of the child from ongoing, continued victimization.” Specialists work to ensure that the child is situated in a safe environment where their needs are met.
“We are here to rescue children, and we are here to build good cases against traffickers,” Jeanette Milazzo, a special agent in Houston’s Field Office said. “If we have developed enough rapport with the victim, we build a case against their trafficker and hopefully charge them in federal court.”
Although the field offices recovered several victims and perpetrators in July, the FBI continues its work to combat sex trafficking throughout the year.
“Our agents, intelligence analysts, professional staff, and victim specialists work tirelessly before, during, and after these operations to make sure that victims get the help they need to reclaim their lives,” Wray said.
Operation Independence Day was made possible because of the Innocence Lost National Initiative, launched in 2003. The initiative is a collaboration between the FBI and National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Over the course of 16 years, the group has recovered or identified more than 6,600 child victims and convicted more than 2,700 traffickers.