By Tamas Mondovics
“I was pretty much a good kid,” Nicole, 27, said. “I didn’t really stay out late, I always came home, I never stole anything. I did what a lot of teenagers do.”
In high school she tried cigarettes and alcohol, but by age 17, she said “things were deteriorating at home.” Her parents were divorced, her father was absent, and she and her mother had an on-again, off-again relationship. That’s when Nicole met a man who took her shopping and showered her with attention.
“He was gorgeous and he had charm,” she said.
The person Nicole described turned out to be Juan Vianez, the pimp who forced her into prostitution and later brutally beat her.
In an effort to save children out of the hands of such individuals like Vianez, the FBI, its local, state, and federal law enforcement partners, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) conducted a bitter sweet operation last month resulting in the recovery of 168 children—eight of those, ages 15- to 17-years-old within the Tampa Bay area—used in sex trafficking.
The outcome of ‘Operation Cross Country VIII’ (OCC-VIII), a week-long enforcement action targeting commercial child sex trafficking throughout the United States, shows the bitter reality of a crime that seems only to get worse.
“Child prostitution remains a major threat to children across America,” said Paul Wysopal, Special Agent in charge of the FBI’s Tampa Field Office. “It is a violent and deplorable crime, and we are working with our partners to disrupt and put behind bars individuals who sexually exploit children.”
FBI officials reported that the operation included enforcement actions in 106 cities across 54 FBI field divisions nationwide resulting in recoveries of the 168 children who were being victimized through prostitution. Additionally, 281 pimps were arrested on state and federal charges. To date, the FBI and its task force partners have recovered nearly 3,600 children from the streets.
The agency said investigations and subsequent 1,450 convictions have resulted in lengthy sentences, including 14 life terms and the seizure of more than $3.1 million in assets.
Operation Cross Country is part of the Innocence Lost National Initiative that was established in 2003 by the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, in partnership with the Department of Justice and NCMEC to address the growing problem of child prostitution.
“Operation Cross Country reveals that children are being targeted and sold for sex in America everyday,” said John Ryan, President and CEO of NCMEC.
To learn more, visit www.fbi.gov, www.justice.gov, or www.ncmec.org.
Anyone with information about commercial child sex trafficking, call the FBI Tampa Field Office at 1-866-838-1153.