KANSAS CITY, Mo. — After a month-long sting operation targeting sex traffickers and aimed at recovering child victims, the FBI announced that more than 100 juveniles have been rescued.
The operation, dubbed Operation Independence Day, lasted throughout the month of July and relied on more than 400 law enforcement agencies, including the Kansas City, Missouri, and Overland Park police departments, in cooperation with the FBI Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking task forces at all 56 field offices.
The sweep included undercover operations and led to five dozen federal criminal investigations.
Agents and analysts at FBI Headquarters and in the field worked closely with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to identify young runaways, missing children, and juveniles who may have been subjected to human trafficking.
A total of 103 juveniles were identified or recovered, including two in the in the Kansas City area, and 67 suspected traffickers were arrested. Another 35 adult victims of commercial sex trafficking were identified and rescued locally, according to the KCPD.
"These sex traffickers are preying on our most vulnerable, our children," FBI Kansas City Division spokeswoman Bridget Patton said. "This is something that can take place in a large city or it can take place in a small farming community, but what we are seeing is thousands of children that are being exploited sexually across the United States."
Law enforcement combs through social media, sometimes even posting fake ads to attract the attention of sex traffickers.
"We need to use the same techniques and technologies that the criminals use so that we can find these victims and provide help to them as well," Patton said.
Lucy Bloom, the executive director of Veronica's Voice, leads a local nonprofit that works with women who were sex-trafficking victims and helps raise the awareness of sex-trafficking crimes.
"We know there are so many more who need to be identified and need to have an intervention that will meet their needs," Bloom said. "The average age of those buyers that were indicted yesterday is 40 years of age. These are middle-class, middle-aged males, largely Caucasian, who are seeking to purchase."
The road to recovery, especially for young victims, can be quite long.
"It is very very difficult to overcome," Bloom said. "It takes sanctuary and space to be able to overcome that type of trauma."
The FBI has initiated week-long coordinated nationwide sweeps in past years under the name Operation Cross Country.
This year, FBI field offices had a longer time window to plan and execute operations as part of the national initiative, with the goal being to develop richer leads and intelligence, and more robust cases.
There were 14 juveniles recovered or identified in the Las Vegas area during Operation Independence Day and 13 in the Dallas area. There were nine juveniles recused or identified in the Detroit area and six each in Atlanta and Seattle.