INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Two human traffickers in Indiana were behind bars Wednesday after a nationwide operation that rescued 84 minors.
FBI Indianapolis representative Chris Bavender said the operations in Indiana were out of Indianapolis, Fort Wayne and South Bend. One trafficker was arrested in South Bend and another in Fort Wayne.
“No juveniles were recovered in Indiana, but these operations are not just a one-time effort – they are ongoing,” Bavender said in a statement.
The effort, called Operation Cross Country XI, resulted in 120 human trafficking arrests across the country between Thursday and Sunday. An FBI release said the average age of the victims was 15, with the youngest victim being only 3 months old.
In the infant’s case, FBI agents said the child was discovered working alongside a 5-year-old girl in Denver. A friend of the children’s family offered an undercover officer $600 for access to the children for sexual purposes. The subject was arrested and the children were placed with Child Protective Services.
“When we talk about Operation Cross Country, or these types of operations that we run, the primary goal is really the recovery of children,” said Calvin Shivers, an FBI Denver special agent. “And then not only from a recovery standpoint, but providing them victim services to get them back home or back integrated into society.”
Video provided by the FBI shows agents searching online sites for minors offered for prostitution and staging operations in hotels, casinos, truck stops and street corners. Victim specialist Jennifer Gosko in Colorado can be heard talking to the minors after the traffickers are arrested, explaining their options.
“You’re not in trouble,” Gosko said in one video clip.
“If you want to stop all this, stop what you’re doing, stop this work, you can call that and they can do that for you,” she said to a young woman sitting on a bed. “You don’t have to deal with this scary stuff.”
Gregory Massa, the assistant special agent in-charge at the Indianapolis FBI field office, said last year his operatives rescued 36 minors.
“We do dozens of these operations in a smaller format throughout the year. Last year, we had a goal of 25 child locates and we exceeded that by 44 percent,” Massa said.
As he works with his teams daily, he said, another task is to educate the public on the prevalence of sex trafficking in Indiana and dispel myths.
“‘It doesn’t happen in Indiana’ and ‘It only happens on Super Bowl event Sundays.’ That couldn’t be further from the truth,” he said. “It happens tonight on the streets of Marion County. In South Bend, Indiana. In Fort Wayne, Indiana.”
In addition to the efforts by the FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to rescue children and arrest sex traffickers, they also hope operations like Cross Country XI increases awareness of this issue in every American community.
“We work 365 on a daily basis recovering these high-risk kids and kids who have been involved in sex trafficking,” said Anne Darr, a victim specialist from FBI Denver. “And so, on a daily basis, we’re working as a multidisciplinary team just making sure that we’re giving these cases the best care that we can.”
Here are some more warning signs that the FBI says could mean there is human trafficking going on in your neighborhood:
- If you see an unusually large number of people living in a single-family home.
- If you see individuals who go from home to work and straight back with no signs of any kind of social life.
- Frequent police activity at the home.
- Assaults, domestic situations, verbal disputes, or thefts. These could involve a trafficking victim being abused and disciplined by a trafficker, a customer having a dispute with a victim, or a client who had money taken during a sex act.
- Locations, such as truck stops, strip clubs, massage parlors and cheap motels are havens for prostitutes forced into sex trafficking. Many massage parlors and strip clubs that engage in sex trafficking will have cramped living quarters where the victims are forced to stay.
- An individual with injuries from beatings or weapons; routinely has large sums of cash on hand.