25 Children Rescued from Child Sex Traffickers During Raids in Ohio
'Operation Safety Net' sees U.S. Marshals take down more trafficking networks
The U.S. Marshals Service has rescued 25 children from child sex traffickers during a series of raids in Ohio over the past two weeks, according to reports.
The news comes just days after U.S. Marshals announced the rescue of 39 endangered children in Georgia.
Similar operations are ongoing in two other states as authorities target missing kids who may have fallen victims of sex trafficking.
Ohio's "Operation Safety Net" led to the discovery of 25 children ages 13 to 18 in over the past two weeks, the Marshals Service said.
U.S. Marshal Peter Elliott said the operation is likely to continue into October, by which time it seeks to save 200 children.
The chief of the Marshals' Missing Child Unit, Darby Kirby, said a two-week operation is also underway near Indianapolis.
These operations are part of efforts at the local level to locate missing children rather than a coordinated nationwide sweep, Kirby told USA TODAY in an email.
Since 2005, the marshals have helped recover 1,800 missing children.
Operations such as Safety Net allow agents to give undivided attention to finding endangered children, U.S. Marshals Public Information Officer Anne Murphy said.
“If they were looking for kids every day, they would find kids every day,” said Suzanne Lewis-Johnson, CEO at RAHAB Ministries in Ohio, who worked as an FBI agent and on a Child Exploitation Task Force running operations similar to the ones conducted by the Marshals Service.
Since Operation Safety Net began two weeks ago, 25 children have been found - some as far afield as Miami.
"These are kids that have been abused, neglected," said U.S. Marshal Pete Elliott.
"Some involved in human trafficking."
He told local news station WOIO that many of the missing children had suffered intense trauma from birth.
"Sometimes the situations they go to, believe it or not, may be better than the situations they left from," he said.
"We've had some cases where the mother and or father, or both, may have been prostituting their own child."
Elliott said his team was working with the Cleveland, East Cleveland, and Newburgh Heights police departments.
The children they had located so far were aged between 13 and 18 years old, and one in four were victims of human trafficking.
"We're trying to do our part," Elliott said.
"A number of these children have gone to the hospital after we've recovered them to get checked out, so again this is something we take very seriously."
He told the channel that 350 men and women from 125 different departments across the state were involved in the search.
"I'll tell you this, it will be something we'll be doing every year," he said.
"This is our first time we have done this, it's been uncharted territory for us, but we've had great success."
On Tuesday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine praised the "great, great effort" being put into tracking down the children.
Although only some of the children were believed to be victims of human trafficking, he called on all residents to recognize and report signs of it - signs such as repeatedly running away from home, or evidence of physical abuse.
Last year 23,500 endangered runaways were reported, and one in six of them were likely victims of child sex trafficking, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
More than 90 percent of missing children in the U.S. are classified as "endangered runaways," or children under 18 who fled their homes on their own.
The designation also can include children who were enticed by online predators, who fled with mental health or special needs conditions, or victims escaping sex trafficking or forced prostitution at their own home.
A similar operation in Georgia, dubbed "Operation Not Forgotten," has seen 39 children recovered.