Human trafficking operation results in 8 arrests in Bay Area

OAKLAND (BCN) - A nationwide crackdown on human trafficking last week that was led by the FBI with the assistance of local law enforcement agencies resulted in the recovery of six underage victims and the arrest of eight alleged pimps in the Bay Area, authorities said Thursday.

One of the victims was a 16-year-old juvenile from Milpitas who
had been missing for almost a month and was recovered in Oakland, FBI Special Agent In Charge David Johnson said at a news conference at the federal building in Oakland this morning.

In addition, 52 johns who allegedly solicited the underage victims were arrested, a higher total than any previous year because the FBI is now able to prosecute johns under news laws passed under a federal human trafficking bill, Johnson said.

Operation Cross Country IX, the ninth nationwide initiative by the FBI to fight human trafficking, resulted in the recovery of 149 underage trafficking victims and the arrest of 153 pimps across the U.S., authorities said.

According to the FBI, during the nationwide operation 90 victim specialists provided on-scene direct services to sex trafficking victims and 105 child victims received on-site direct services, such as crisis intervention and resources for basic needs like medical help, food, clothing and shelter.

FBI specialists coordinated with local law enforcement victim advocates and non-governmental organizations that provided additional support to victims.

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said three juveniles were recovered in her county, two traffickers were arrested and a third trafficker was identified but is still at large. In addition, 15 johns were arrested, she said.
O'Malley, whose office has been aggressively prosecuting sexual traffickers for many years, said about 60 percent of the underage victims in Alameda County are local residents but a high percentage come from outside the area.

Johnson said he thinks pimps bring underage girls to the Bay Area because it's a large metropolitan area that's fairly wealthy so there are many people who have the money to buy the girls' services.

O'Malley said that in addition to helping girls forced into human
trafficking, her office and other local agencies are trying to develop resources to provide services to girls in troubled situations so they don't get involved in the sex trade in the first place.

"It's not enough to respond to trafficking -- we have to stop it so girls are not vulnerable to traffickers," O'Malley said.

She said many victims are in child welfare programs or on juvenile probation.

Johnson said this year's operation was the largest so far and involved 53 FBI field offices and 73 child exploitation task forces working with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, conducting investigations in 135 cities.

The operations took place at hotels, casinos, truck stops and other areas known to be frequented by prostitutes, sex traffickers and their customers, he said.

"Selling children for sex is a heinous crime and will not be tolerated," Johnson said. "Protecting children is one of the FBI's highest priorities because every child deserves to be safe and sound."
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement, "Human trafficking is a monstrous and devastating crime that steals lives and degrades our nation. As a result of the FBI's outstanding coordination and exemplary efforts alongside state and local partners during Operation Cross Country, more children will sleep safely tonight and more wrongdoers will face the judgment of our criminal justice system."