Three hundred sixty-eight people have been arrested, and 131 victims rescued in large-scale human trafficking operation by a multi-agency task force in California.
Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Chief Michel Moore said: “We know that the sex trade is a prolific one that exists throughout this state and throughout our nation.”
“It’s an ugly scar against this great country that exists too oftentimes in plain sight,” he added.
Operation Reclaim and Rebuild occurred between Jan. 22 and Jan. 28 in nine counties, including Los Angeles, Orange, and San Bernardino, Kiro7 reported.
Various federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies teamed up for the effort, including the LAPD, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
Victims of human trafficking, including ages ranging from 13 to 52, including children.
Investigators worked with victim advocacy groups to provide resources “to help [victims] escape from this life-threatening environment,” he said.
Investigators responded to advertisements offering sexual services and visited massage parlors suspected of being involved in sex trafficking.
Among those arrested included pimps and panderers, Moore said.
The victims, most of whom were kidnapped, face “threat of death” or coercion and are isolated from their former support to become dependent on the trafficker, Moore added.
Moore went on to note that “in the old days,” the victims of human traffickers were often regarded by law enforcement as criminals. However, the modern attitude has changed, as the victims are now regarded as being exploited by criminals.
Combatting a violent industry
The seven-day task force is only a part of law enforcement agencies everyday effort to combat sex trafficking, authorities said.
David Cox, COO of ZOE International, a nonprofit that helps victims, said victims are brought in from other states or countries.
Cox said his organization has cared for 489 youth victims of sex trafficking this past year, some as young as 11 years old.
“In our city, kids are being raped 20 to 30 times a day,” he said.
Meanwhile, another California based nonprofit combating human trafficking, Journey Out, cared for 256 adult victims last year, Cox said.
He said some victims of sex trafficking have been pistol-whipped, jumped out of moving vehicles to escape, gone missing, or lost their lives.
“Traffickers are master predators. They’re on the hunt for vulnerable kids and adults,” he said.