Friday, 18 August 2023

FBI Denver rescues 27 sex trafficking victims in nationwide effort known as 'Operation Cross Country'

 The FBI Denver Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force partnered with state, local, and federal agencies to recover 27 sex trafficking victims during a nationwide effort known as "Operation Cross Country." Eight minors and 19 adults were rescued in the effort.

The federal agency also noted that 14 other children were located but not yet rescued. Five traffickers were apprehended, and eight other traffickers are being investigated further. More than 40 agencies and organizations from across Colorado were involved in the effort. The Denver-based task force is just one among 89 across the U.S. 

FBI recovers 27 victims in human trafficking

The task force said they "work with a multidisciplinary team that is intelligence-driven and takes a trauma-informed, victim-centered approach," adding that "this methodology reduces the trauma that survivors can experience."

Trafficking victims are reportedly assessed by specialists and provided services that meet their specific needs. Furthermore, victims are provided "community, state, and federal resources." 

FBI Denver Special Agent Mark Michalek emphasized that those trafficked were not simply abducted off the street. "This isn't a kidnap off the streets scenario that you might see in a movie," he said. "We see traffickers identifying vulnerable minors and exploiting them through different methods of psychological or physical control." 

Colorado Public Radio reported that sex traffickers use addiction, substance abuse, and mental health to lure minor victims. Lieutenant Aaron Rebeterano, of the Denver Police Department's Strategic Investigations Bureau, said many of the victims of sex trafficking come from dysfunctional homes.

"Many of them are addicted to illicit narcotics, and this is an angle that the traffickers can use to subject them to exploitation," he said. "This begins the grooming process for the traffickers. Traffickers often offer these juveniles and these teens drugs in lieu of sex. The traffickers will then try to hold onto the victims and then offer them to other individuals ... for sexual acts."

"The traffickers often find that providing drugs, food and shelter is an acceptable means to manipulate victims," Rebeterano said. "Many of the traffickers utilize their victims' addictions, lack of resources [and] physical and emotional abuse to maintain control."

Victims of trafficking are not only vulnerable to manipulation and exploitation, but they often have a disability or identify as LGBT, according to the Denver Gazette. On the other hand, traffickers do not easily fit into one category. They are sometimes gang members or low-level drug dealers. Trafficking can take place in residential brothels and massage parlors.

One victim mentioned was a 16-year-old girl who had been trafficked by her father in exchange for drugs. A second victim recovered had reportedly been missing from her foster family, and she was later found in a hotel room with a known trafficker. The children recovered were reunited with their parents or guardians and provided services by the different Juvenile Assessment Centers, child welfare partners, and service providers.

"Child sex trafficking exists here, in our community. Our Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force works with local, state, and federal partners — as well as community partners and service providers — to proactively combat this heartbreaking crime,” Michalek said. “Our multidisciplinary team and intelligence-driven approach continues to be successful in recovering children who have been victimized by traffickers. We will never stop in our efforts to bring child sex traffickers to justice and help victims get to a safe place and receive the services they need.”

The FBI currently has 1,600 pending human trafficking investigations, and the agency opened 668 new cases in 2022, Michalek said.

“I think the takeaway is that it’s here," he noted. "They are hiding in plain sight.”

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