Operation cross country is a nine year partnership between the FBI and law enforcement which targets criminals who are sex trafficking children.
The operation has come to the Ohio Valley with some shocking results.
Locally, 25 arrests have been made, including the arrests of two pimps.
The FBI joined forces with federal, state, and local law enforcement right here in Northern West Virginia and Western Pennsylvania to bust child sex trafficking.
US Attorney David Hickton called human trafficking a modern day form of slavery, and the operation has found many victims hiding in plain and painful sight right here in the Ohio Valley.
“I think one of the things we’ve noticed in West Virginia is a lot of the young women who end up being trafficked, are trafficked at least from our experience, by people they know and are aware of,” said Kathy Szafran, President and CEO of Crittenton Services Inc.
Residential treatment facilities like Crittenton work with children in our community who are high risk to be trafficked.
Szafran said she frequently sees runaways from broken homes coming through their doors, who are easily groomed into sexual exploitation through pimps offering money, drugs, and attention.
“Frequently, you have, I hate to say professional individuals who are literally stalking group homes foster homes, looking for vulnerable young women to abduct. But still it’s very concerning, and when you see that there is this type of organized effort to abduct children, it’s a heinous heinous act,” Szafran added.
US Attorney Bill Ihlenfeld said the operation cross country initiative shines a much needed spotlight on criminals that are preying on vulnerable young children, especially in our community.
“We look at these young girls as being bad, instead of seeing that they are young women who are vulnerable who are really being placed in a high risk situation because of their vulnerability, not because they are being bad girls,” said Szafran.
The youngest child found during the operation was just 12.
All of the children will receive support in starting their lives over.
Hancock County Sheriff Ralph Fletcher noted the success of this operation due to the professionalism of our local law enforcement.