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The FBI has rescued 168 children — the youngest 11 years old, and some of them never reported missing — in a coast-to-coast crackdown on sex traffickers, officials said Monday.
"These are America's children," said FBI Director James Comey.
The week-long operation, called "Cross County VIII," resulted in the arrest of 281 pimps who recruited minors off street corners, at truck stops and online.
Some of the victims were in the child-welfare system before they went missing, said John Ryan of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which partnered with the FBI.
"Many of these children have been abandoned, often abused and neglected. Many of these traumatized children run away because they believe it’s the best option for them," Ryan said.
He said that some of kids were not reported missing before they were rescued.
"They are literally flying under the radar," he said.
The latest operation took place in 106 cities across the nation. Officials said both the victims and their captors were generally American citizens.
"This is not some foreign import scourge. This is our own," Comey said.
The operation began at the local level with prostitution and solicitation arrests. The FBI then used that information to zero in on organized trafficking efforts.