INDIANAPOLIS — During a two-week operation in August, the FBI located 84 victims of child sex exploitation and found 37 actively missing children during a nationwide sex trafficking initiative, the Department of Justice said Monday.
The FBI Indianapolis Division told 13News nine children were rescued in Indiana and three sex offenders were caught on Aug. 12. The FBI in Indianapolis worked with the United States Marshals Service and IMPD missing persons and vice units.
The average age of the victims was 15.5 years old and the youngest was 11 years old. In addition to locating and identifying the underage victims, the FBI found 141 trafficked adults.
“The Justice Department is committed to doing everything in our power to combat the insidious crimes of human trafficking that devastate survivors and their families,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in a press release.
The nationwide operation focused on locating victims of sex trafficking and arresting those involved in both child sex and human trafficking crimes. Agents arrested or identified 85 suspects of child sex exploitation and human trafficking offenses, according to the Department of Justice.
The initiative "Operation Cross Country," worked alongside 200 state, local and federal partners as well as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to conduct 391 operations in August. It ran from Aug. 4-7, as well as Aug. 11-14.
"Human trafficking is among the most heinous crimes the FBI encounters,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray in the press release. “Unfortunately, such crimes—against both adults and children—are far more common than most people realize.”
The FBI worked with victim specialists during the operation to help provide a "bridge" for those who are wary of the system, the Justice Department said. Victim specialists also help provide services based on the needs of the victims such as crisis intervention, emergency food, clothing, shelter and more.
“The success of Operation Cross County reinforces what NCMEC sees every day. Children are being bought and sold for sex in communities across the country by traffickers, gangs and even family members,” said Michelle DeLaune, president and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in the press release.
Resources for victims
The FBI has a dedicated victim services group hired to help people who experience these awful situations.
They offer crisis intervention, emergency food and clothing access, transportation for emergency services and shelter or housing. In the last 20 years, they've helped more than 2 million people.
There are also local groups here in Indiana dedicated to helping survivors.
Ascent 121 in Carmel provides free long-term trauma recovery services and helps anyone under the age of 24. The group expanded last year with a new facility offering different kinds of therapy and spreading awareness about warning signs for trafficking and exploitation.
"A lot of times, the exploiter is somebody they know," said Trisha Prickett at Ascent 121.
"Red flags in the beginning are always kind of like this, what I call 'love bombing,' right? You are the center of that person's world, they make you feel special in a way that nobody else has. It's just this showering of attention and as soon as they know that they have you, that changes," said Sarah Hurley of Ascent 121.
Social media safety features for families
When it comes to knowing what your child is doing online, different apps are rolling out safety features to help parents.
Last week, Snapchat announced its new family center. Parents and teens between the ages of 13 and 18 can opt in. It gives you access to your child's friends list, who they've talked to in the last seven days and any new friends they add.
"We wanted to be really thoughtful about bringing out tools that would be useful, but also diligent and thoughtful," said Nona Farahnick Yadegar, Snapchat's director of platform policy and social impact.
If parents have concerns about someone their teen is following, they can report the account and Snapchat will respond quickly.
There are limits to the safety feature, however. Parents can't see what teens are saying to their friends and the child has to opt in on the app for it to work.
Instagram also has a series of parental controls that can block or limit users and manage time spent on the app, along with a supervision tool. Twitter has a "conversation control" feature that lets you decide who can communicate with your kids online.