A nationwide FBI enforcement sweep against human traffickers netted a series of arrests in Minnesota and the Dakotas last week, according to agents in the bureau’s Minneapolis office.
Ann Saunders, assistant special agent in charge for the FBI’s Minneapolis field office, said the operation included stings and warrant arrests in about a half dozen cities from Oct. 12-15. Four suspected traffickers were arrested and face federal charges, and seven more were arrested on suspicion of prostitution with help from Brooklyn Center police.
“It can impact any neighborhood,” Saunders said. “We’re in Brooklyn Center, but you could have picked any neighborhood to do this operation.”
Although the FBI did not recover any minor victims locally, the 11th iteration of its “Operation Cross Country” saw the national average age of victims reach a new low at 15. The youngest victim, just 3 months old, was recovered by authorities in Denver.
Agents and task force officers conducted sting operations in hotels, casinos, truck stops, street corners and online. In all, the FBI arrested 120 suspected traffickers and rescued 84 juveniles during the operation, which included 55 FBI field offices and 78 state and local task forces.
“This operation isn’t just about taking traffickers off the street,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement this week. “It’s about making sure we offer help and a way out to these young victims who find themselves caught in a vicious cycle of abuse.”
As part of the operation, the local FBI office dispatched 11 victim specialists to contact service providers and prepare “hope bags” with information telling trafficking victims where to get help. The FBI’s Minneapolis office is also one of the few with a “child-adolescent forensic interviewer” trained to conduct interviews with young victims that are expected to hold up to scrutiny in court.
“The idea is that this isn’t something we just do for a day out of the year,” Saunders said. “This is something we work all the time. But it is one time that we use that opportunity to … raise awareness.”