Eleven children from Florida were among the nearly 170 rescued during a nationwide sex trafficking sting conducted by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies last week.
Authorities around the country rounded up 281 pimps and freed 168 children, targeting child sex-trafficking operations in more than 100 U.S. cities.
Police arrested 21 pimps in Phoenix, the most of any FBI division. Other hotspots in the coordinated raids were centered in Denver, Cleveland, and Los Angeles, while eight children were freed and three people were arrested in the Tampa FBI office's region.
"Child sex traffickers create a living nightmare for their adolescent victims," said the Justice Department's Leslie R. Caldwell, assistant attorney general for the Criminal Division. "They use fear and force and treat children as commodities of sex to be sold again and again. This operation puts traffickers behind bars and rescues kids from their nightmare so they can start reclaiming their childhood."
As NPR reported in March, "The Justice Department estimates that each year at least 200,000 children are trafficked for sex in the U.S., and it is said to generate upward of $32 billion a year."
Six children were rescued in the Tampa Bay area, while one more was rescued in the Orlando area and one in the Fort Myers area.
Sarasota Police officials report three people were taken into custody there. British citizen Jessel Rajesh Patel, 25, faces multiple felony charges, including using a computer to solicit and travel to meet a minor. Whisper Morton, 30, of Sarasota, was charged with felony prostitution, while Jessica Fisher, 29, was charged with misdemeanor prostitution.
Elsewhere in Florida, the Miami FBI division reported three children rescued and four arrests, while the Jacksonville division reported one arrest.
A full list of the number of children recovered and pimps arrested is on the Department of Justice website. It shows several FBI divisions in double-digits in both categories:
Atlanta (11 children recovered, 15 pimps arrested)
Cleveland (16 children recovered, 12 pimps arrested)
Denver (18 children recovered, 11 pimps arrested)
Los Angeles (10 children recovered, 12 pimps arrested)
The FBI says nearly 3,600 children have been recovered from the streets since it began pursuing the week-long enforcement program under the Bush administration's Innocence Lost National Initiative.
Under the program, titled Operation Cross Country, "1,450 convictions have resulted in lengthy sentences, including 14 life terms," the FBI says. The agency says the cases include work by local, state, and federal agencies.
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