More than 200 human trafficking victims, including children, found in nationwide FBI operation

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The FBI says more than 200 human trafficking victims and missing people, 121 of which were children, were found by law enforcement in a nationwide operation called "Operation Cross Country."

More than 200 state, local and federal agencies, as well as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, conducted the two-week search, with 391 operations done, the FBI said in a news release Monday. The goal of the operation "is to gather intelligence, build criminal cases against traffickers and offer victims assistance."

In total, 141 adult victims of human trafficking, 84 minor victims of child sex trafficking and 37 missing children were located, during the initiative conducted during the first two weeks of August. Officials said the average age of the children was 15-year-old, and the youngest victim was age 11.

In addition to the location of victims, 85 suspects of child sexual exploitation and human trafficking were identified or arrested. That work included locating sex offenders who hadn't registered yet, as well as tracking people approaching children online.

"The initiative really just takes a concentrated period of time where we’re just focused on the problem of child sex trafficking,” Section Chief Jose Perez, who's in charge of the FBI's violent crime investigations, said in a statement.

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"What we do is we sit down with our local partners and our task forces and identify certain areas where we know sex trafficking is prevalent, and we’ll dedicate resources and efforts to identify and remove victims from those areas," Perez added.

More than half of new human trafficking victims identified in 2021 were minors, according to a report from the Human Trafficking Institute. Of all human trafficking criminal cases filed last year, 92% were of sex trafficking.

"Unfortunately, such crime – against both adults and children – are far more common than most people realize. As we did in this operation, the FBI and our partners will continue to find and arrest traffickers, identify and help victims, and raise awareness of the exploitation our most vulnerable populations," said FBI Director Christopher Wray.

Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: FBI-led operation finds 200-plus trafficking victims, many children