Berks part of US crackdown on underage sex trafficking

FBI: 84 minors recovered; 120 traffickers arrested

PHILADELPHIA - A crackdown on underage sex trafficking across the United States, including Berks County, has resulted in dozens of minors being recovered and more than 100 people being arrested.

The FBI, along with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, announced Wednesday the results of "Operation Cross Country XI," an effort that focused on underage human trafficking between October 12 and 15.

"We at the FBI have no greater mission than to protect our nation's children from harm," said FBI Director Christopher Wray.

The effort resulted in the recovery of 84 minors and the arrests of 120 traffickers, according to the FBI, which noted that five traffickers and four pimps were arrested during operations in the Philadelphia, Reading, and Harrisburg areas. Names have not been released.

"Unfortunately, the number of traffickers arrested and the number of children recovered reinforces why we need to continue to do this important work," Wray said. "This operation isn't just about taking traffickers off the street. It's about making sure we offer help and a way out to these young victims who find themselves caught in a vicious cycle of abuse."

This year's mission, the 11th of its kind, involved assistance from hundreds of law enforcement partners in the United States and abroad, including the Berks County district attorney's office, Pennsylvania State Police, and the Cumru Township and Lower Heidelberg Township police departments.

"This is the largest investigation that I've been a part of," Cumru police Chief Madison Winchester told WFMZ's Tom Rader.

Cumru's police station served as one of the central hubs for the FBI, according to Winchester.

"We don't have a lot of time to prepare, but we do have ample time to prepare and make sure it's a successful investigation," explained Winchester. "All the local police officers that are involved came in, got briefed, organized, and deployed out for the operation."

"Year after year, Operation Cross Country hammers home the abhorrent prevalence of child sex trafficking," said Michael Harpster, special agent in charge of the FBI's Philadelphia Division. "Right now, children are being sexually exploited and they are being traumatized in our area, and across the country. That's what drives the FBI and its partners on our Child Exploitation Task Forces."

Operation Cross Country XI involved FBI agents and task force officers staging operations in hotels, casinos, and truck stops, as well as on street corners and Internet websites.

"We look online, so we're seeing what they're seeing, and you never know when you're actually talking to a police officer," Winchester said.

The youngest victim recovered during this year's operation was 3 months old, and the average age of victims recovered during the operation was 15.

"Child sex trafficking is happening in every community across America, and at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, we're working to combat this problem every day," said John Clark, NCMEC's president and CEO. "We're proud to work with the FBI on Operation Cross Country to help find and recover child victims."

"We will never stop working to find and free trafficked children, and ensure those responsible are brought to justice," Harpster said. "And we ask anyone with knowledge of child sex trafficking to let us know about it – anonymously, if need be. Call 1-800-CALL-FBI or go online to"

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