33 children rescued from sex trafficking, exploitation in multi-agency operation in Los Angeles

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LOS ANGELES, CA – On behalf of more than two dozen partner agencies, Assistant Director in Charge Kristi K. Johnson, of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, announced the results of ”Operation Lost Angels,” an initiative which began on January 11th and recently culminated in the recovery of 33 children.

During January—Human Trafficking Awareness Month—the FBI worked with the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and more than two dozen law enforcement and non-governmental partners to identify, locate, and recover missing children, particularly those who have been or were suspected of being sexually exploited and/or trafficked.

Of the 33 children recovered, eight were being sexually exploited at the time of recovery. Two were recovered multiple times during the operation while on the “track,” a common term used to describe a known location for commercial sex trafficking. It is not uncommon for victims who are rescued to return to commercial sex trafficking either voluntarily or by force, fraud, or coercion. This harmful cycle highlights the challenges victims face and those faced by law enforcement when attempting to keep victims from returning to an abusive situation. Victims may not self-identify as being trafficked or may not even realize they’re being trafficked.

Several other victims located had been sexually exploited in the past and were considered vulnerable missing children prior to their recovery. Additionally, the operation resulted in the arrest on state charges of one suspected human trafficker and the opening of multiple investigations. Some of the minor victims were arrested for probation violations, robbery, or other misdemeanors. One child was a victim of a noncustodial parental kidnapping.

The FBI caseload for both sex and labor trafficking-related crimes has increased significantly in the past several years. As of November 2020, there were more than 1,800 pending trafficking investigations, including those involving minors exploited through commercial sex trafficking. Today, the FBI leads 86 Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Forces around the nation and participates in Anti-Trafficking Coordination (ATC) Teams in 12 offices, including in Los Angeles. The ATC Teams are intended to streamline coordination on the front lines of federal human trafficking investigations and prosecutions.

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In fiscal year 2020, the FBI initiated 664 human trafficking investigations nationwide, resulting in the arrests of 473 traffickers. The FBI also collects and posts human trafficking statistics through its annual crime report. The most recent report can be found at https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-theu.s/2019/crime-in-the-u.s.-2019/additionaldata-collections/human-trafficking

“The FBI considers human trafficking modern day slavery and the minors engaged in commercial sex trafficking are considered victims,” said Assistant Director Johnson. “While this operation surged resources over a limited period of time with great success, the FBI and our partners investigate child sex trafficking every day of the year and around the clock.”

Multiple teams were assembled for this operation which were comprised of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, as well as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the California Department of Child & Family Services, and nongovernmental victim advocacy organizations.

“Human trafficking is a pervasive and insidious crime that threatens the safety of our young people, who are the future of our communities,” said Michel Moore, chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. “We can only begin to take back the future of our youth with the strong partnerships forged between outstanding service providers and law enforcement.”

In addition to recovering child victims who are missing or engaged in commercial sex trafficking or who are otherwise being exploited, the FBI and our partners provide much needed resources to victims to ensure that their short- and long-term needs are met. Resources may include immediate medical requirements; legal services; housing; employment; education; job training; and childcare, among others.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said, “Collaboration with our law enforcement partners is key to ending the vicious cycle of modern day slavery. I’m committed to doing everything we can to stop human trafficking.”