AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s called Operation Cross Country VIII. In 106 cities, including San Antonio and Austin, the FBI along with several local, state and federal law enforcement partners targeted child sex trafficking throughout the United States. Agents say the three day operation rescued 167 children. Three were from Austin.
“We don’t want to release the ages but we will say they are all under the age of 17,” FBI agent Daniel Powers said.
Three pimps were also arrested, and agents say two of them are from Austin.
Investigators say most of the victims were girls, but there were also some boys rescued. Some of the arrests occurred because of tips from suspicious travelers.
“What they saw was two hotel rooms rented – and they’re usually an older male accompanied by younger females. And one room is the working hotel room, and the other room is where everyone usually stays and they usually have very limited belongings, ” said FBI spokesperson Michelle Lee.
Investigators say the norm used to be kids were kidnapped and forced into this life. Some were held under very brutal and violent circumstances. But now, they say they are seeing a trend of kids voluntarily running away, with promises of modeling and acting careers that never happen.
Additional details about the suspects or the victims was not immediately available.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children:
1 in 7 endangered runaways from 2013 were likely used in child sex trafficking
67 percent of the children used in sex trafficking that same year were in social services or foster care when they ran away
The FBI says 3,400 children have been rescued from exploitation since the Innocence Lost National Initiative was launched in 2003.
Laurie Cook Heffron with the University of Texas School of Social Work has worked with many victims of trafficking. Some are undocumented immigrants promised a job and a better life. “Sometimes those stories include, ‘I have a job for you in a restaurant’, or ‘I have legitimate work for you in a welding manufacturing plant’. And when people get here they realize those were lies,” says Heffron.
American victims are sometime lured in with promises of fame and fortune.
“Many of these victims are lured into a glamorous lifestyle or some kind of work or modeling gig by a pimp or someone they think of as their boyfriend maybe.”
Heffron says many social media sites have been used to set up what’s called ‘commercial sex’, but she says once law enforcement uncovers a site, the founders go underground, and begin using new sites. This means investigators are constantly having to being anew to arrest more suspects and rescue more victims.
Agents say the children are used in this trade at truck stops, massage parlors, spas, and hotels.
There are several organizations who are dedicated to stopping human trafficking right here in Austin.
- The Allies Against Slavery group
- The Central Texas Coalition Against Human Trafficking
- Also, if people have experienced sex or labor exploitation, have a tip, or think they see something suspicious, they can call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center 24/7 at 1-888-373-7888, or online.