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Dozens of Children Rescued, but Roughly 200 Missing in Northern Ohio Alone

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Jaco Booyens with Liberty University's The Falkirk Center appeared on the Thursday afternoon edition of CBN's Newswatch to talk about the current sex trafficking cases and what's being done to combat this crime at the state and federal level. Newswatch is seen weekdays on the CBN News Channel

While the election, the pandemic, and ongoing Black Lives Matter protests have held much of the media's attention, authorities in states across the country are working to find missing kids who may be the victims of sex trafficking. 

In the last few weeks, there have been major recoveries of dozens of children.

In Ohio, authorities are working on what's called "Operation Safety Net" through the month of October. Twenty-five children ages 13 to 18 have been rescued in less than three weeks.  The operation is still underway with the cooperation of the Northern Ohio Violent Fugitive Task Force across the northern part of the Buckeye State. The task force is made up of about 350 men and women from 125 different departments across the state, according to WHSV-TV.

The television station reports there are about 200 children who have been reported missing in Northeast Ohio right now.  

The current operation has targeted cases in northern Ohio, but WHSV reports at least one child was found from as far away as Miami, Florida.

"Sometimes the situations they—they go to, believe it or not, maybe better than the situations they left from," US Marshal Pete Elliot told Cleveland-based WOIO. "We've had some cases where the mother or father, or both, may have been prostituting their own child."

As CBN News has reported, just days before, the US Marshals Service announced the rescue of 39 endangered children in Georgia under "Operation Not Forgotten." Nine suspects were arrested on sex trafficking charges in that case.

Of those 39 victims, authorities reported 15 of them were being human- and sex-trafficked.

A third effort — "Operation Moving Target" — led to the arrest of 27 men in Ohio who had been engaging in sexually explicit conversations with undercover agents posing as children.

"As we have seen the number of cyber tips dramatically increase this year, it is clear that online predators remain a serious threat to our children," said Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O'Malley. "Hopefully, the success of yet another operation serves as a stern warning to offenders that you will be found, you will be arrested, and you will be prosecuted."

And in Flint, Michigan, back in mid-August, seven children were rescued and 17 people arrested on child trafficking charges.  That was all part of an effort to find 27 children who disappeared from schools, hospitals, probate courts, and the foster care system, according to the Detroit News.

If you know of a missing child or have a tip for authorities, you can call the US Marshals tip line at 1-866-492-6833. 

Endangered Runaways

More than 90 percent of missing children in the US are classified as "endangered runaways," or children under 18 who fled their homes on their own, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. (NCMEC)

One in six of the roughly 23,500 endangered runaways reported in 2019 were probable victims of child sex trafficking, according to the NCMEC.  The average age of child sex trafficking victims reported to the center is only 15 years old. 

Child sex trafficking has been reported in all 50 states. 

The NCMEC also gave a list of red flags as behavioral indicators that a child is being exploited or is actively being targeted and recruited.

  • Child has a significant change in behavior, including increased virtual behavior, or associates with a new group of friends
  • Child avoids answering questions or lets others speak for him or her
  • Child appears frightened, resistant, or belligerent to law enforcement 
  • Child lies about his or her age and identity
  • Child looks to others before answering questions
  • Child does not ask for help or resists offers to get out of the situation (child does not self-identify as a victim)
  • Child seems coached in talking to law enforcement
  • Child uses trafficking-related terms like "Trick," "The Life," or "The Game"
  • Child is preoccupied with "getting money" (e.g., displaying photos of cash)

The NCMEC has prepared a guide for Parents & Guardians on child sex trafficking in America. It is available for download here

Watch the public service announcement below from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. 

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Steve Warren and Benjamin Gill
Steve Warren and Benjamin Gill