11 arrested in Augusta in connection to nationwide child prostitution raid

News 12 at 11 o'clock / Monday, July 29, 2013

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW) -- An FBI-led task force conducted investigations in the Augusta area just a couple weeks ago. The point was to arrest criminals taking advantage of children.

"Operation Cross Country VII included enforcement actions in 76 cities across the country. It resulted in the recovery of 105 children and the arrest of 150 pimps," said an official with the FBI.

Agents arrested nine alleged prostitutes and two alleged pimps in Augusta during the July sweep.

Advocates with the Rape Crisis and Sexual Assault Center say this is an issue that should scare everyone.

"It's our children. Close to 300,000 kids, especially young teens ages 11 to 13, are at risk for sex trafficking. It doesn't matter what part of the town you live in because these traffickers are after a certain age group and they'll locate them any way they want," said Shantha Gowda.

Gowda works at the Rape Crisis and Sexual Assault Center in Augusta. She says pimps don't discriminate -- even using children as young as 5 years old. She says they take advantage of people's misfortune.

"The biggest population at risk are broken homes. People who are moving from one home to another home. When teenagers leave the house, on the streets they are lured into prostitution within 48 hours. Those 48 hours are crucial," she told News 12.

Gowda says victims of sex trafficking also experience rape. She says any sexual activity without giving consent or even being pressured into sex is rape. Experts also say to keep an eye out for what you get involved with on the Internet. They say many kids use hook-up or dating websites without realizing the folks on the other side can be very dangerous.

Update:

The FBI has confirmed 105 children who were forced into prostitution have been rescued in a nationwide crackdown.

The raid, known as Operation Cross Country VII, targeted 76 cities, and netted 150 arrests. Eleven of these arrests were made in the Augusta area.

The Child Exploitation Task Force based in Augusta-Richmond County conducted operations on July 17 and 18. Nine suspects were arrested on prostitution-related charges and two were arrested on exploitation and pimping-related charges.

The task force consists of the Richmond County Sheriff's Office, the Columbia County Sheriff's Office, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Georgia State Pardon/Parole Office.

The Atlanta Field Office FBI’s Metro Atlanta Child Exploitation Task Force conducted operations the week of July 22. In the metro Atlanta area, two juveniles were recovered and eight suspects were arrested on state sexual exploitation for pimping related charges, according to a news release.

Click here to read the news release from the FBI on the nationwide operation.

Initial report:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The FBI says it has rescued 105 children who were forced into prostitution in the United States and arrested 150 people it described as pimps and others in a series of raids in 76 American cities.

The campaign, known as "Operation Cross Country," was the largest of its type and conducted under the FBI's "Innocence Lost" initiative. The assistant director of the FBI's criminal investigative division, Ron Hosko, said that child prostitution remains what he called a "persistent threat" to children across America.

The FBI said the campaign has resulted in rescuing 2,700 children since 2003.

(Copyright 2013, The Associated Press)


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