Today, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the results of Operation Independence Day. Statistics from the St. Louis Office of the FBI did not get included in time. “But our office recovered two child victims and arrested two suspected sex traffickers,” Rebecca Wu, spokeswoman for the St. Louis office of the FBI said.
The Department of Justice announced today the FBI-led recovery or identification of 103 child victims and the arrest of 67 sex traffickers through Operation Independence Day. This initiative — a revamping of a previously successful program — was executed during the month of July through 161 operations conducted nationwide.
Operation Independence Day relied on the 86 FBI-led Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Forces (CEHTTFs), which leveraged the resources and intelligence of other federal, state, local and tribal partners with more than 400 agencies participating in these task forces.
The operation prioritized locating and rescuing missing minors who are at great risk for sexual exploitation, and arresting the traffickers exploiting them. To that end, through its partnership with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), FBI special agents and intelligence analysts reviewed information provided through NCMEC’s CyberTipline, to identify missing minor children at risk for sexual exploitation, and then worked with state and local partners to execute law enforcement activity designed to recover those children and arrest traffickers.
“The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children is proud to be part of this extraordinary partnership with the FBI. The FBI and the Department of Justice have been instrumental in spearheading multi-agency collaboration between organizations to locate and provide resources to victims of child sex trafficking,” said John Clark, President and CEO of NCMEC. “We know this horrendous crime impacts communities across our country every day and we applaud the FBI for continuing to work tirelessly to locate these victims and hold accountable those who are selling children for sex.”
The health and welfare of recovered minor and adult trafficking victims was a further priority. To facilitate these efforts, the FBI’s Victim Services Division and victim specialists stationed in each of the 56 field offices also worked closely with the task forces during the operation to ensure recovered children received the help they needed. Victim specialists put internal and external resources in place before the operation to ensure victim assistance was a priority in the aftermath of the law enforcement operations.
“Make no mistake, the FBI is fiercely focused on recovering child victims and arresting the sex traffickers who exploit them,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “Through operations like this, the FBI helps child victims escape the abusive life of sex trafficking. 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.”
In June 2003, the FBI, in conjunction with the Justice Department Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section and NCMEC, launched the Innocence Lost National Initiative (ILNI). This combined effort was aimed at addressing the growing problem of domestic sex trafficking of children in the United States. In the years since its inception, the ILNI has expanded to 86 dedicated CEHTTFs. These task forces, with the U.S. Attorney’s Offices and the FBI’s Victim Services Division, have worked successfully to rescue thousands of children.
Through ILNI, the FBI, along with its local law enforcement partners, uses task forces to leverage resources and intelligence to identify and recover child victims and prosecute those responsible for their exploitation. This collaborative effort has led to the recovery or identification of more than 6,600 child victims. The initiative has also led to more than 2,750 convictions, including more than 15 life sentences and many other sentences ranging from 25 years to life.
In 2008, the ILNI initiated Operation Cross Country (OCC)—a focused, national campaign that targeted the venues where children were the victims of commercial sex trafficking. Since 2008, there have been 11 iterations of OCC, recovering more than 900 child victims and arresting nearly 1,400 traffickers. The last operation was held in October 2017 with 78 task forces participating.
The FBI determined that after 11 years of OCC success, it was time to re-evaluate the program. The newly renamed Operation Independence Day was conducted over an entire month, rather than a few days, but continued to focus on the recovery of child victims from commercial sex trafficking.
“This initiative has two crucial goals: rescuing children being sold for sex and prosecuting their adult traffickers,” said Attorney General William P. Barr. “Child sex trafficking is a heinous crime that preys on the most vulnerable in our society. Perpetrators victimize children in communities throughout the country, and we are determined to find and rescue them. Through the FBI’s leadership, we have recovered thousands of child victims, and this latest operation adds to the success of that decades-long effort.”
The FBI’s Crimes Against Children and Human Trafficking Unit and DOJ coordinated the operation.