WASHINGTON — Hundreds of people have been arrested and 21 children rescued in what the FBI is calling a five-day roundup of networks of pimps who force children into prostitution.
The Justice Department says it targeted 16 cities — including Las Vegas and Reno — as part of its “Operation Cross Country” that caps off five years of similar stings nationwide.
Dave Staretz, spokesman for the FBI office in Nevada, said 61 adults were arrested in the Las Vegas area in connection with the sting. In Reno, agents arrested 13 adults.
Staretz said each of the adults were arrested on prostitution related charges. Information on whether any children were rescued locally from prostitution rings was not available, he said.
Las Vegas police, which helped with the operation, could not provide details Wednesday.
Child Haven, a temporary shelter for children, has not been asked to take custody of any children who may have been rescued in the roundup, a shelter spokeswoman said via e-mail Wednesday afternoon.
Terri Miller, director of the Anti-Trafficking League Against Slavery, said she knew nothing about the roundup and referred a call to the local FBI.
ATLAS opened in 2006 within the Metropolitan Police Department to combat human trafficking, including sex trafficking, in the valley. It includes federal immigration officials, the FBI; the Salvation Army; Safe House; the Rape Crisis Center; Safe Nest; Nevada Child Seekers; and the Boyd Law School at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Shared Hope International, a Virginia-based nonprofit group working to prevent sex trafficking and provide support for boys and girls in the industry, released a report this year calling Las Vegas a major hub for the sexual trafficking of children and saying the city doesn’t have nearly enough services to help them.
Children from across the country are trafficked to Las Vegas, where more than 400 prostituted children were identified on the streets during a single month last year, the report said. The U.S. Department of Justice also has recognized Las Vegas as one of 17 cities where human trafficking is a concern.
Many of the children forced into prostitution are either runaways or what authorities call “thrown-aways” — kids whose families have shunned them. Officials say they are preyed upon by organized networks of pimps who lure them in with shelter or drugs, then often beat, starve or otherwise abuse them until the children agree to work the streets.
“We together have no higher calling than to protect our children and to safeguard their innocence,” FBI Director Robert Mueller said Wednesday. “Yet the sex trafficking of children remains one of the most violent and unforgivable crimes in this country.”
In all, authorities arrested 345 people, including 290 adult prostitutes, during the operation that ended this week. Since 2003, 308 pimps and hookers have been convicted in state and federal courts of forcing youngsters into prostitution, and 433 child victims have been rescued, Mueller said.
The other locales targeted in this week’s sting are: Atlanta; Boston; Dallas; Detroit; Houston; Los Angeles; Miami; Montgomery County, Md.; Oakland, Calif.; Phoenix; Sacramento, Calif.; Tampa; Toledo, Ohio; and Washington, D.C.
The problem of child prostitution has taken on a new urgency in recent years with the growth of online networks where pimps advertise the youngsters to clients. The FBI generally investigates child prostitution cases that cross state lines.
The cases aren’t easy to convict.
In April 2006, for example, charges against a Nevada man resulted in a hung jury after his 14-year-old victim refused to testify against him. Months later, however, a second jury found Juan Rico Doss of Reno guilty of forcing two girls — ages 14 and 16 — to sell sex in Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco and Oakland.
A University of Pennsylvania study estimates nearly 300,000 children in the United States are at risk of being sexually exploited, said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
“These kids are victims. This is 21st century slavery,” Allen said. “They lack the ability to walk away.”
Review-Journal writers Lynnette Curtis and Adrienne Packer contributed to this report.