The FBI, along with local law enforcement in Colorado and Wyoming, rescued nine child sex trafficking victims over the weekend and arrested 11 pimps and 32 customers, officials announced on Tuesday (18 October). The youngest victim rescued during the three-day operation was a 14-year-old.
The initiative, part of the semi-annual Cross Country Operation X, was led by the FBI's Rocky Mountain Innocence Lost Task Force. Law enforcement officials investigated hotels, truck stops, street corners and social media, The Denver Post reported.
Cross Country Operation X is a semi-yearly national effort by law enforcement that targets child sex trafficking. Colorado authorities this year put their focus on the spread of sex trafficking on social media sites such as Facebook, Grindr and MeetMe.
"We're in a technological age now where we have powerful computing devices that we can hold in the palm of our hand," said Sergeant Dan Steele, of the Denver Police Department, according to The Denver Post. "Because of that, we have now seen traffickers, and sex buyers alike, looking at those devices and going, 'Wow, I can sit on my couch, or I can sit in my car or I can stand on the street corner and I can pick and choose a person that I want to exploit. I can pick and choose if I want to buy someone, sell someone, exploit someone."
Steele added: "That's a disturbing trend to know that that's out there."
According to CBS Denver, as many as 2,000 children in Wyoming and Colorado are estimated to be trafficked each year. Steele warned that it could happen to any child in any place.
"It can be your kid. It can be anybody's kid. And while it's true that traffickers look for vulnerabilities, I would argue that every teen has some kind of vulnerability, whether they're feeling left out, whether they're feeling alone, seeking relationships, seeking affection, seeking some kind of acceptance for wherever they're at," he said.
In one instance, two pimps were found driving across the Midwest with two females, a juvenile and an adult and selling them for sex. They were arrested for human trafficking of a minor for sexual servitude in Denver after advertising the victims on a sex website.
"These young girls were giving every penny that they earned to the pimps," Calvin Shivers, acting special agent in charge of the FBI's Denver division, said at a news conference.
An additional six men, including two registered sex offenders, were arrested in Mesa County for child sex assault, internet luring, patronising a child prostitute and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Forty seven adult prostitutes were rescued by the FBI in the region, the bureau said.