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Operation rescues exploited children

Editorial

A combined effort by federal, state and local law enforcement officials in 76 cities last week made an impact.

One hundred and fifty adults accused of exploiting and pimping minors were arrested. More importantly, 105 children were freed from these predators.

In Georgia, the effort — dubbed Operation Cross Country VII — focused on the Atlanta and Augusta areas, where two children were rescued and a combined 19 people were arrested.

“Child prostitution remains a persistent threat to children across America,” said Ron Hosko, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “This operation serves as a reminder that these abhorrent crimes can happen anywhere and the FBI remains committed to stopping this cycle of victimization and holding the criminals who profit from this exploitation accountable.”

The effort coordinated the work of multiple agencies in 47 FBI districts and was conducted with the help of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

“Operation Cross Country demonstrates just how many of America’s children are being sold for sex every day, many on the Internet,” said John Ryan, CEO of NCMEC. “We’re honored and proud to partner with the FBI, which has taken the lead in tackling this escalating problem.”

It’s a sad thing to note that the problem with sexually exploited children is still as rampant as it is today, no doubt facilitated by the ease of communication via the Internet. Since the FBI began conducting the series of Cross Country operations, more than 2,700 children have been rescued from the streets. Convictions number 1,350 so far, with lengthy prison sentences and the government has seized more that $3 million in assets from these criminals.

A program such as this is expensive, both in money and time for the agencies that comprise the task force. But recovering children from a life of sexual exploitation is a worthy expenditure of both resources.

We’re also pleased to see that Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens and 48 other state attorneys general have asked Congress to close a loophole in the Communications Decency Act and restore criminal jurisdiction to state and local prosecutors. The state attorneys say the act, designed to protect children from indecent material, has been interpreted by courts to shield online marketplaces for prostitution — including child sex trafficking — from state and local prosecution.

“Traffickers have taken advantage of loopholes in the current law to sexually exploit children on the Internet,” Olens said. “A majority of the victims recovered by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, for example, have been advertised on Backpage.com at some point. As the tactics used by traffickers evolve, we must ensure that the law is modernized to effectively combat this heinous crime.”

Congress should address the concerns of the attorneys general on this point and make sure that the act hasn’t had the unintended effect of allowing predators of our most vulnerable to elude law enforcement.

For the kids, rescue from exploitation is only the first step. We can’t imagine the ordeals that they have endured and how those horrible experiences will shape their lives. We hope that they are being met with the love and attention they need to cope with those nightmares.

The follow-up care and counseling that these victims need — and deserve — is critical to help them heal and move forward with their lives. As a nation, we have a responsibility to see that they receive it.