LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — During an enforcement campaign conducted over the past two weeks, the FBI and its Arkansas law enforcement partners identified and located 84 minor victims and rescued 37 actively missing children in a human trafficking operation dubbed “Operation Cross County XII.”
According to a press release from the FBI Little Rock Field Office, this is the 13th iteration of the FBI-led nationwide operation focused on identifying and locating victims of sex trafficking. The campaign also develops state and federal cases against individuals and criminal enterprises involved in both child sex trafficking and human trafficking.
Supervisory Special Agent Mark Grimm said the operation helped minor victims and stopped those involved with trafficking.
“Not only rescuing and helping one poor victim to find care and move forward, but also have an opportunity to stop the exploitation of additional children in the future,” Grimm said.
In addition to the identification and location of adolescent victims, the FBI and its partners located 141 adult victims of human trafficking across the nation. Special agents and investigators also identified or arrested 85 suspects with child sexual exploitation and human trafficking offenses.
Those suspects identified will be subject to additional investigation for potential charges. The average age of victims located in similar operations is approximately 16 years old, while the youngest victim discovered during this operation was 11 years old.
In Arkansas, FBI agents from the Fayetteville Resident Agency partnered with northwest Arkansas victim advocacy organizations and law enforcement from Baxter County Sheriff’s Office, Benton County Sheriff’s Office, Bentonville Police Department, Greenland School District Police Department, Lakeview Police Department, Rogers Police Department, Siloam Springs Police Department, and the University of Arkansas Police Department. Beginning on August 4th, this team identified and located two human trafficking victims, arrested one alleged human trafficker, and apprehended three individuals who allegedly traveled or intended to travel to northwest Arkansas from other states and cities in separate attempts to engage in unlawful sexual conduct with minors.
Into the Light is an Arkansas organization dedicated to putting an end to child trafficking. Executive Director Gretchen Smeltzer said it’s a money making business that can happen anywhere.
“There is a lot of money that can be made from selling an individual multiple times a day over and over again and that is what drives it,” Smeltzer said.
Smeltzer and Grimm said trafficking can be hard to detect because a lot of it starts online. Grimm said traffickers also make it hard for the victims to come forward.
“They might use communications that are coercive, so getting cooperation to work with law enforcement, particularly from victims can be difficult,” Grimm said
“Human trafficking is among the most heinous crimes the FBI encounters,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “Unfortunately, such crimes—against both adults and children—are far more common than most people realize. As we did in this operation, the FBI and our partners will continue to find and arrest traffickers, identify and help victims, and raise awareness of the exploitation of our most vulnerable populations.”
As part of Operation Cross Country XII, FBI special agents, intelligence analysts, victim specialists, and child adolescent forensic interviewers— working in conjunction with over 200 local, state, and federal partners and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC)— conducted 391 operations over a two week period.
Grimm said this operation won’t be the last the FBI will take to rescue victims.
“Law enforcement and the FBI specifically have a real duty to care for and look after children,” Grimm said.
“The success of Operation Cross Country in Arkansas this year is a direct result of the enduring partnerships we share with local and state law enforcement,” said FBI Little Rock Special Agent in Charge James A. Dawson. “Without our partners, four alleged predators may have avoided justice and two human trafficking victims may not have received the assistance they desperately needed. We will continue to work with Arkansas police agencies to combat human trafficking and child exploitation throughout our state.”
If you are a victim of trafficking or think it might be happening to someone you now, you can contact Into the Light at it’s 24/7 hour hotline at 877-743-7348.