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A nationwide child prostitution sting led to the rescue of 79 teen victims and the arrest of more than 100 alleged pimps, the FBI announced Monday.
The three-day "Operation Cross Country" sweep took place in 57 U.S. cities between Thursday and Saturday, Reuters reports. The child prostitutes, all U.S. citizens between 13 and 17 years old, were rescued at various locations including truck stops, storefronts, and hotels.
Of the rescued teens, 77 are girls and two are boys. "Just like any kind of a hostage, they're being held against their will," an FBI assistant director said, according to CBS News.
Child prostitutes are often lured into prostitution when adult pimps offer vulnerable children gifts like cell phones, or even more basic needs like food or shelter, investigators said.
Online recruiting is also on the rise, as organized crime groups "with a business strategy" target kids via social media, chat rooms, and text messages, the FBI assistant director said.
The arrested pimps are set to face charges in the states where they were caught, according to the FBI. Most states have laws against promoting prostitution, and can bring more serious charges for child prostitution.
Some of the pimps could also face federal charges, including sex trafficking.
In general, there are a few defenses to prostitution crimes. Entrapment may work, if a defendant can prove a government agent induced or encouraged the alleged crime. A defendant can also try to prove the sex acts were not performed in exchange for money. With 104 alleged pimps and many more alleged johns arrested, there could be a wide range of possible defenses.
The alleged child prostitutes rescued in the sting are now in protective custody. Since 2008, Operation Cross Country sweeps have now rescued more than 2,200 child prostitutes, the FBI said.
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