ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – The FBI has just wrapped up a 3 day "sting" on the most despicable of crimes and shared the results with FOX2.
"Operation Cross Country" targeted child sex trafficking in St. Louis and across the United States.
Agents partnered with local police nationwide recovering 168 children being victimized through prostitution. They also arrested suspected 281 pimps.
The numbers barely made a dent in the epidemic, authorities said.
“No doubt. No doubt. It’s going on all the time, everywhere. We are always having to play catch up,” said Acting Agent In Charge, Martin Culbreth of the FBI-St. Louis office, referring to the likelihood of someone being victimized in the St. Louis area, minute-to-minute.
The sting operation targeted 106 U.S cities, with 18 young people recovered in Denver, 16 in Cleveland, 13 in Chicago, and none in St. Louis.
There was an arrest of a suspected pimp in St. Charles County, Culbreth said.
“[He]was answering a solicitation that we had put out there. We’re culling for these things we offer up that we’re looking for services and this person answered back.”
Underground prostitution websites have featured photos of young people with St. Louis landmarks in the background.
There is a way out for them.
Cathy Summers, who now lives in the St. Louis area, told FOX2 a family member rescued her and her siblings when she was just 7, after a pimp took control of her mother’s life.
“Once he owned us. He did whatever he wanted to do with us. It meant childhood prostitution, child pornography… you can recover the wholeness, help, love, peace. All of those things are possible,” she said.
A little neighborhood vigilance helps, Culbreth said.
FBI divisions in Kansas City and Springfield, Illinois, recovered 2 minors, each.
St. Louis is hardly free from the epidemic, Culbreth said.
Children had been recovered in other recent stings, just not in this nationwide effort over the weekend.
Agents and local police are working on new ways to free them from the grip of child sex trafficking.
Neighborhood vigilance helps.
“It is huge. You notice a van in the neighborhood, near the park. You notice a person; they’re sitting across the street on a bench every day. They don’t have children. They just happen to be around. That’s what it is. Its people paying attention and saying, ‘oh I remember this, I saw this, this is what was happening’,” he said.
Child sex criminals are trying everything, branching out through social media while still using personal ads in newspapers and magazines and using “code” to peddle child pornography and prostitution, Culbreth said.
Any little clues from the public could help crack the code.