Five pimps suspected of forcing children and women into prostitution were arrested in South Sound during a four-day nationwide sweep that rescued 105 kids, the FBI announced this morning.
The sweep, dubbed Operation Cross Country, took place July 24-28 and resulted in nine arrests in Washington State. Another 55 people are being held for questioning, 18 of them from South Sound. Three children were rescued statewide.
Authorities said they also recovered cash, two guns, a knife, a taser and stolen identification cards.
Although the FBI said pimps traveled throughout the state with their victims, the sweep led agents to locations in Tacoma, Lakewood, Federal Way, Renton, Everett, Kirkland, Seattle, Tukwila and other areas of King County.
The victims range in age from 13 to 17. Some of the women rescued were forced into prostitution when they were children, according to the FBI.
Operation Cross Country was conducted in 76 American cities under the FBIs Innocence Lost Initiative. "Child prostitution remains a persistent threat to children across the country," Ron Hosko, assistant director of the bureau's criminal investigative division, told a press conference.
The FBI said the campaign has resulted in rescuing 2,700 children since 2003.
The investigations and convictions of 1,350 have led to life imprisonment for 10 pimps and the seizure of more than $3.1 million in assets.
For the past decade, the FBI has been attacking the problem in partnership with a non-profit group, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
John Ryan, the head of the center, called the problem "an escalating threat against America's children."
The Justice Department has estimated that nearly 450,000 children run away from home each year and that one-third of teens living on the street will be lured toward prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home.
Congress has introduced legislation that would require state law enforcement, foster care and child welfare programs to identify children lured into sex trafficking as victims of abuse and neglect eligible for the appropriate protections and services.
"In much of the country today if a girl is found in the custody of a so-called pimp she is not considered to be a victim of abuse, and that's just wrong and defies common sense," Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said during a Senate Finance Committee hearing last month. Wyden co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.