NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Sixteen juveniles forced into prostitution — including some teens who had been reported missing by their families — were rescued by the FBI in a two-week operation leading up to the Super Bowl, the agency said Tuesday.
Officials said the children ranged in age from 13 to 17 and were found in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.
More than 50 women who were also forced to work as prostitutes were also rescued and more than 45 pimps were arrested, according to authorities.
“We’ve recovered 16 child victims in this operation, but we’ve also provided services to many more,” Michael Harpster, chief of the FBI’s Violent Crimes Against Children section, told WCBS 880’s Ginny Kosola. “So the adult prostitutes also received services.”
Officials said many of the women and children were forced to travel to the New York City area during the Super Bowl.
“The FBI and its partners remain committed to the identification and rescue of minor victims, and to hold accountable those who exploit children for financial gain,” said Aaron Ford, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Newark field office.
As 1010 WINS’ Gary Baumgarten reported, FBI Special Agent-In-Charge Richard Frankel at a loss for words.
“It’s terrible,” he said. “I’m a father with several children within that age group, and I find it beyond — I can’t even think of how that bad is, in my opinion.”
The children victims were reunited with their families, taken to Child Protective Services or sent to family court if they had outstanding arrest warrents, Frankel said.
Authorities said the Super Bowl and other big sporting events provide potentially lucrative opportunities for sex traffickers. There are scant statistics and significant debate over how much trafficking actually increases during such events, but New Jersey, like previous hosts for the game, paid particularly close attention to it.
“New Jersey has a huge trafficking problem,” U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., said last month.
Smith is co-chairman of the House anti-human trafficking caucus.
“One Super Bowl after another after another has shown itself to be one of the largest events in the world where the cruelty of human trafficking goes on for several weeks,” he said.
The operation came after months of investigative work to find sex trafficking rings and training for legions of law enforcement personnel, hospitality workers, airport employees and others on identifying the signs of sex trafficking. The New Jersey Attorney General’s office set up a Super Bowl sex trafficking task force that included partners such as the FBI, shortly after it was announced that the game would be held at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
The FBI said Monday its operation consisted of more than 50 law enforcement agencies. Last week, a Florida woman was arrested for allegedly trying to prostitute her 15-year-old daughter during the Super Bowl and authorities in New York City said the number of prostitution arrests jumped in the week leading up to the game.
Officials in New Jersey were particularly concerned that the state’s sprawling highway system, proximity to New York City and diverse population make it an attractive base of operations for traffickers.
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