MADISON, Wis. (WSAU) - Wisconsin’s Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced Monday the nationwide crackdown on child sex trafficking called Operation Cross Country. There were 100 arrests in Wisconsin alone.
Putting together a coordinated effort like this is no small task. Jenniffer Price is the Department of Justice Special Agent in charge of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. She says lots of coordination and collaboration is needed to put together an operation of this size. “There are a lot of logistical issues on the front end, everything from identifying a tactical team to be able to manage the arrests, to an investigative team to manage interviews of suspects or any victims we come in contact with, all the way to working with social service agencies.”
The FBI handled most of the planning for this operation, but Price says they have coordinated some similar large-scale crackdowns such as Operation Black Veil a few months ago.
Over the weekend, hundreds of officers at local departments played a key role in making arrests and rescuing 10 teenagers. “We conducted our operations in Madison, Wisconsin Dells, Milwaukee, and the Fox Valley, so virtually every local law enforcement agency in those areas had some part in this operation.”
Ten children were rescued in Wisconsin, all of them 16 and 17 years old.
Many teenagers, usually girls, willingly get involved in the sex trafficking believing that it’s better than life at home. “Most often, we do find that they are seeking out things that they’re not getting at home, in the areas of love and affection, attention, and sometimes even just basic needs like three square meals a day.” Price says it’s not always easy for these victims to go back to a normal life. “It’s a very, very time consuming process and it’s often times difficult to explain to a teenager that is engaged in sex trafficking at the hands of a pimp that getting out of that lifestyle is what’s best for them, when they came from a lifestyle that they thought was worse.”
The young people caught in sex trafficking often believe they cannot get away from it, even if they want to. Price says there is help with just one phone call. “It’s a long process for them not only to receive the services, but to be able to understand that it’s OK to get out of that lifestyle, and that there are people available out there to help them.”
Finding the pimps and the teenaged prostitutes isn’t easy, since these crimes are kept pretty quiet. Price says they have proactive and reactive methods to locate and track them both undercover and online, and they use that information to coordinate arrests like these.