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FBI: 7 trafficking victims rescued, 18 pimps arrested

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

Seven Michigan sex trafficking victims were rescued this weekend and 18 pimps were arrested as part of an international hunt for abusers during the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 10th annual Operation Cross Country initiative.

Worldwide, 82 child victims were recovered and 239 pimps were arrested, according to the FBI.

Operation Cross Country X kicked off Oct. 13 and ended Oct. 15, officials said.

Of the seven survivors rescued in Michigan, six were children recovered in the Metro Detroit area along with the arrest of 10 traffickers, officials said. An additional 46 adults involved in prostitution also were taken into custody.

On the state’s west side, one adult trafficking victim was rescued while eight pimps were arrested. Seven adult prostitutes were removed from the industry.

The sting included law-enforcement teams from throughout the United States and abroad. It was the largest version of Operation Cross Country to date, involving 55 FBI field offices, 74 task forces and more than 400 law enforcement agencies.

“Operation Cross Country aims to shine a spotlight into the darkest corners of our society that seeks to prey on the most vulnerable of our population,” FBI Director James Comey said at a San Diego press conference on Monday alongside police chiefs from around the country, including Detroit Chief James Craig.

The task forces converged this weekend on hotels, casinos, truck stops and other areas frequented by pimps and their victims. The youngest American rescued was 13 years old, while a set of Milwaukee sisters, ages 16 and 17, told officials their mother worked as their pimp.

Meanwhile, a 2-year-old girl was rescued in the Philippines alongside 11- and 5-year-old boys who allegedly were forced by five adults to participate in a web-streaming service. Authorities in Thailand arrested an American citizen accused of coercing five Filipino teenaged girls to take explicit photos.

“This is a depressing day in law enforcement,” Comey said at the San Diego press conference. “Because this is the world we live in and the work we have to do.”

As part of the Operation Cross Country X announcement, officials unveiled an emotional video of an anonymous woman who survived child sex trafficking in Detroit. Authorities did not release the individual’s name, age, or information about when she was rescued.

But her words painted a dark picture of a troubled life involving molestation by a drug-addicted father and time spent as trapped as an “upscale call girl.”

“(My pimp) told me the money would be used towards the modeling. And I believed him,” the woman said in the video, her face hidden in silhouette. “They use us young people because they can’t get older women to do what they want to do because they believed we’re young and we’re naïve. And nine times out of 10, they’re right.”

The woman counted herself as one of the many inexperienced children tricked into human trafficking.

“When he told me about the adult entertainment business, I didn’t understand that it was an upscale call girl. I wasn’t even aware of the fact that it was prostitution,” she said. “And that’s the crazy part of it all, because I really believe it was for the modeling. I really thought this was a real legit thing... And it wasn’t.”

Her voice rarely wavered as she described regular beatings at the hands of her pimp and being left alone in hotel rooms “for weeks,” going hungry.

“It’s a trap,” she said of the human trafficking business. “Once you’re there, it’s hard to get out. It’s really hard.”

When her chance came to be rescued by law enforcement, the woman faced a Catch-22: Stay and risk eventually being killed by her violent pimp, or attempt escape and risk the man tracking her down and killing her.

“Either which way, he might end up killing me,” she said.

The woman escaped.

She repaired a relationship with her mother, returned to school and now works as a certified nursing assistant and patient care technician, she said.

She dreams of one day becoming a registered nurse.

“If you’re a victim and you went through this, there is justice for you, definitely,” she said. “Not only is there justice for you, but you don’t have to be scared anymore once you elaborate and go to the police, because (your abuser) will be arrested.

“I can breathe and say I can finally put him behind me,” she said of her former pimp. “And so I’m OK where I’m at now.”

HFournier@detroitnews.com

(313) 223-4616

@HollyPFournier