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More than 100 teens were rescued in a nationwide sex trafficking sting, the FBI announced over the weekend. Some 150 alleged pimps were arrested and will face criminal charges including human trafficking.
The three-day "Operation Cross-Country" took place in 70 U.S. cities. It was the FBI's largest action to date focusing on the recovery of children between 13 and 17 involved in sex trafficking and exploitation, according to NBC News.
But what exactly is human trafficking and how does it, as the FBI said, "rob us of our children"?
Domestic Human Trafficking
When you think of "human trafficking," you may think of an elaborate international practice of transporting women and young girls across the globe to forcibly perform slave labor and/or sex.
To the contrary, in many states, the definition of human trafficking includes transporting persons and forcing victims to perform labor or services even if they're only transported for a short distance.
At-risk teens are often lured into sex trafficking operations from broken homes. With no supportive family around, they're enticed with compliments and a way to make money. Soon, they're trapped in a violent cycle that involves drugs, physical abuse and even torture, an FBI assistant director said, according to NBC News.
"The victims cut across racial lines," he said, and span all socioeconomic levels and demographics. An estimated 240,000 children in the United States are considered at risk of sexual exploitation.
Children caught up in trafficking have been rescued from areas near train tracks, truck stops, hotels, and casinos. To many people's surprise, even major U.S. sporting events like the Super Bowl have been known to be magnets for child prostitution, according to the FBI.
"Operation Cross-Country" is conducted under the FBI's "Innocence Lost" initiative, which is meant to draw attention to the growing issue of sexually exploited children. The FBI said the campaign has resulted in rescuing 2,700 children since 2003.
In this year's raids, the FBI joined forces with 230 agencies across the country. Every FBI field office in the nation was involved in the operation.