ST. LOUIS – Over two weeks, the FBI in St. Louis worked with agencies throughout the country and in the St. Louis region to identify and find victims of child sex trafficking in a mission called “Operation cross country.”
Eighty-four children were rescued nationwide – five of them are from St. Louis.
“Human trafficking, which is really modern-day slavery, is a top priority for the FBI,” said Jay Greenberg, Special Agent in Charge for the FBI St. Louis Division.
He said the annual investigation has two goals, to help the victims and to find the suspects responsible. The FBI, state, and local agencies have found 37 missing children. The average age of the victims located is 15 and the youngest was 11 years old.
Investigators 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.
“We see vulnerable children every single year,” Greenberg said. “So, what we’re asking the public to look out for is children who are either in a situation where there is financial distress, there is lack of a supportive family or there’s some other stressor. So, those kids just aren’t old enough to make good decisions for themselves.”
Greenberg said many children who were being trafficked were lured online.
“Make sure they’re not friending anybody or talking to someone in the digital world if they don’t know them in the physical world,” Greenberg said. “The internet is the primary threat, vulnerability, facing these children and we really need to help those kids make good decisions on how they’re using their internet access so that they’re not subjected to these internet trackers… there’s a great deal of outreach from social media and that’s frequently how the contact is made.”
Greenberg said the FBI discovered 141 adult victims of human trafficking.
“The vulnerable faces change every single year, but the problem remains the same,” he said.
If you see something suspicious, you’re encouraged to call 1-800-CALL-FBI.