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FBI raids rescue 105 kids forced into prostitution

Published:   |   Updated: July 29, 2013 at 08:54 PM

WASHINGTON - The FBI says it has rescued 105 children - including three in the Tampa area - who were forced into prostitution in the United States and arrested 150 people it described as pimps and others in a series of raids in 76 American cities. The victims, almost all girls, range in age from 13 to 17.

The three-day campaign, known as "Operation Cross Country," was the largest of its type and conducted under the FBI's "Innocence Lost" initiative.

According to an FBI news release, 47 FBI offices, including the office in Tampa, participated in the operation.

It was not clear where in the Tampa area the rescues took place. No arrests were listed in the Tampa area.

The most activity was reported in the Detroit, Milwaukee, San Francisco, Denver and New Orleans offices, which each had at least 10 children rescued. San Francisco reported 12 children rescued and 17 arrests. Detroit had 10 children rescued and 18 arrests while Milwaukee had 10 children rescued and no arrests.

The FBI said the campaign has resulted in rescuing 2,700 children since 2003.

"Child prostitution remains a persistent threat to children across the country," Ron Hosko, assistant director of the bureau's criminal investigative division, told a press conference.

The FBI said the campaign has resulted in rescuing 2,700 children since 2003.

The investigations and convictions of 1,350 have led to life imprisonment for 10 pimps and the seizure of more than $3.1 million in assets.

For the past decade, the FBI has been attacking the problem in partnership with a non-profit group, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

John Ryan, the head of the center, called the problem "an escalating threat against America's children."

The Justice Department has estimated that nearly 450,000 children run away from home each year and that one-third of teens living on the street will be lured toward prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home.

Congress has introduced legislation that would require state law enforcement, foster care and child welfare programs to identify children lured into sex trafficking as victims of abuse and neglect eligible for the appropriate protections and services.

"In much of the country today if a girl is found in the custody of a so-called pimp she is not considered to be a victim of abuse, and that's just wrong and defies common sense," Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said during a Senate Finance Committee hearing last month. Wyden co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

Tribune reporter Elaine Silvestrini contributed to this report.