For the operation, which began Jan. 11, the FBI worked with more than two dozen law enforcement and non-governmental partners “to identify, locate, and recover missing children, particularly those who have been or were suspected of being sexually exploited and/or trafficked.”
Of the underage victims recovered, eight were being sexually exploited at the time of recovery, the agency said in a statement, as part of Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
“Two were recovered multiple times during the operation while on the ‘track,’ a common term used to describe a known location for commercial sex trafficking. It is not uncommon for victims who are rescued to return to commercial sex trafficking either voluntarily or by force, fraud, or coercion,” it said.
“The FBI considers human trafficking modern day slavery and the minors engaged in commercial sex trafficking are considered victims,” said Assistant FBI Director Kristi K. Johnson.
As part of the operation, a suspected human trafficker was arrested on state charges and multiple investigations were launched.
In the 2020 Report on U.S. Government Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons, the State Department warned about “the increasing number of people vulnerable to exploitation by traffickers due to the instability, isolation, and lack of access to critical services caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“The effects of COVID-19, as with other catastrophic events, are disproportionately impacting communities suffering from systemic or generational inequality – the same communities traffickers often prey upon,” the report said.
The FBI also revealed that its caseload for trafficking-related crimes, for both sex and labor, had increased significantly in the past several years. Last year, the agency started 664 human trafficking investigations across the country, arresting 473 people.