DENVER — Twenty-seven victims of sex trafficking were recovered in Colorado as a result of a recent operation to combat human trafficking nationwide.
The FBI Denver Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force said the annual campaign, called "Operation Cross Country," located and rescued eight juveniles and 19 adults who were victims of sex trafficking in the state. In addition, 14 other children were found, five traffickers were arrested and eight other traffickers were identified as subjects for more investigation.
Of those rescued, FBI Denver said one was a 16-year-old girl who was being trafficked by her father in exchange for drugs. Another juvenile was reported missing by her foster family and was found with a known trafficker.
In total, the operation identified and located 200 victims of sex trafficking nationwide — 59 were minors. In total, 126 suspects were identified or arrested on child sexual exploitation and human trafficking offenses and 68 suspects of trafficking were identified or arrested, the FBI reported.
"Human traffickers prey on the most vulnerable members of our society, and their crimes scar victims — many of them children — for life. The FBI's commitment to combating this threat will never waver, and we will continue to send our message that these atrocities will not be tolerated," said FBI Director Christopher Wray. "This operation would not be possible without the commitment and collaboration from our state and local law enforcement partners, and it demonstrates our continued focus on actively pursuing the criminals responsible for these heinous violations and connecting those impacted with dedicated victim services and resources."
The juveniles found in this operation were reunited with their parents and guardians, or they are placed with a trusted person elsewhere. All victims in this operation are linked to resources to help them at the community, state and federal level.
FBI Denver Special Agent in Charge Mark Michalek said once a victim is recovered, they meet with a victim specialist who makes an assessment and provides individualized support and services. That can include food, clothing, substance abuse treatment, transportation to receive medical or mental health services, and locating shelter or housing.
"The victim specialists also serve as conduits between the victims and the investigative team to provide case updates, and they fulfill an advocate role during the court proceedings to reduce the trauma survivors can experience when engaging in the judicial system," Michalek said.
FBI Denver said it uses a "trauma-informed, victim-centered approach" in operations like this one.
The focus of the annual "Operation Cross Country" is to identify and locate victims in sex trafficking, investigate suspects and criminal enterprises, and make arrests when applicable.
More than 40 agencies and organizations from Colorado participated in this two-day push, FBI Denver said.
“Child sex trafficking exists here, in our community," Michalek said. "Our Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force works with local, state and federal partners — as well as community partners and service providers — to proactively combat this heart-breaking crime. Our multidisciplinary team and intelligence-driven approach continues to be successful in recovering children who have been victimized by traffickers. We will never stop in our efforts to bring child sex traffickers to justice and help victims get to a safe place and receive the services they need.”
During a press conference Wednesday, he said at last count, the FBI has more than 1,600 pending human trafficking investigations.
"Human trafficking criminal enterprises operate in plain sight and can go undetected for months, years or even decades while endangering dozens, or even hundreds, of victims before the enterprise is detected, disrupted and ultimately dismantled," he said.
He said sex trafficking is not like a kidnapping scenario you might see in a movie. They typically prey on vulnerable minors and exploit them through different methods of psychological or physical control, Michalek said.
If you are a human trafficking victim or have information about a possible trafficking situation, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) at 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733. The hotline is toll-free and open 24/7. You can also submit a tip on the NHTRC website. If you believe a child is involved in trafficking, submit a tip through the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s CyberTipline or call 1-800-THE-LOST.