The FBI, along with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, recovered 84 children and arrested 120 suspected traffickers as part of a nationwide initiative. Operation Cross Country XI, ran from October 12 to October 15 and involved 55 FBI field offices and partners in Canada, the United Kingdom, Thailand, Cambodia, and the Philippines. Half of the arrests occurred in Georgia.
The staging grounds included hotels, casinos, truck stops, street corners and online. The average age of the victims was 15, and the youngest was only 3 months old. The baby was rescued in Denver, where she and a 5 year old girl were being offered to an undercover agent in exchange for $600. In Baton Rouge, an 18 month old was presented to an undercover officer as a customer.
John Clark, President and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said that “Child sex trafficking is happening in every community across America.” He said that he hoped that the FBI operation “generates more awareness abut this crisis impacting our nation’s children.” According to the news, all of the victims rescued will receive assistance from state protective services and the FBI’s Victim Services Division. “If necessary, they also will be provided medical and mental health counseling.”
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Kudos and many thanks to the FBI, The Center for Exploited Children, and their international partners for the extraordinary planning and effort that went into this project. A sweep this large, involving 55 FBI field offices across the country, which saved 84 children from a life of degradation, abuse and hell, is incredible news. As a mental health clinician, I am unspeakably grateful for this fine work. We can only ask for more operations like this.
At the same time, we feel outrage at the victimization of these children, toddlers, and even an infant. The emotional abuse, the rapes, the beatings, the forced drug use and addiction, the control, all of this is a horror that is difficult to even imagine for adults and adolescents. There are some people who flatly refuse to believe that this can happen to small children, toddlers and infants. But one of my trafficked clients explained to me how her parents had prepared her from infancy, in her crib, to be used for prostitution. This happens more often than we care to imagine.
Years ago, I was discussing this issue of parental abuse and trafficking of children with a man who is an academic scholar and researcher on the Holocaust. I have for over twenty-five years called this abuse, this slavery, a Hidden Holocaust, because for years, no one was talking about it. Ironically, this man who researched and wrote for others to believe in the truth of the Holocaust of World War II, denied that what I was telling him could be true. He is a good man, a nurturing father and a loving husband. He could not fathom that any father or mother would do this to their children. Most people are like this. But it is important that we break through that denial to bring to light the evil that is happening in our midst.
Many people believe that the trafficking happens in other countries, or that it happens to people brought to this country from other nations. Both of those are true. But there are hundreds of thousands of American-born victims being trafficked here, or taken to Canada or other countries and sold there.
And what of these children? I became concerned when I read in the news report that these children would be given medical and mental health treatment “if necessary.” “If necessary?” I believe that it is a given that these children will need that treatment. If the children were abducted from a loving home, that trauma would call out for psychotherapy.
If the children were sold or trafficked by their own parents and were not separated from them until the FBI raid, the treatment is still necessary. These parents have not just made a spontaneous bad judgment. Anyone who does this to a child has been abusive and not bonded in their relationship with that child.
And who will care for these children? Sadly, the foster care system is often a place of abuse and trafficking in this country.
This rescue operation is hopeful and wonderful. And we have so much more to do. But thank you to those involved in Cross Country for this huge step forward.