(NewsNation) — More than 80 children were located in a national sex trafficking ring busted by the FBI this week as part of an operation by the bureau that has identified more than 200 total victims of sex trafficking.
As part of Operation Cross Country, the FBI said it found 84 minors being exploited by sex traffickers, 37 of whom were actively missing children. The average age of the children was 15, with the youngest child just 11 years old.
Former FBI and CIA agent Tracy Walder said this kind of successful operation by the FBI relies heavily on the work of tech analysts employed by the bureau, who are experts in tracking down the websites used by traffickers to exploit their victims.
“They are the ones that put the pieces of this puzzle together,” Walder told “NewsNation Prime.” “For something of this scope, it involved multiple intelligence analysts, across multiple offices.”
Melissa Snow, the executive director of sex trafficking programs at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said the pandemic and the increased unsupervised internet use by minors led to an increase in illicit trafficking activity.
“We also saw an increase in children missing from care, that were leaving those locations at higher rates, oftentimes because they didn’t want to be locked down in a certain facility or feel stuck to a certain extent,” Snow said.
Snow said NCFMEC received more than 17,200 reports of sex trafficking in 2021, an all-time high for the organization.
Family trafficking is something about which Snow said her organization is trying to educate teachers and other adults in children’s lives. She said to keep an eye out for drastic changes in a child’s behavior as well as odd changes in a child’s online behavior.
A majority of sex trafficking, 83% in 2020, happened online. Walder said the FBI is growing its online resources to meet this trend, but there are still hurdles in the process.
“We can only monitor the sites that we know about and that’s what really becomes problematic,” Walder said. “We can look at DMs, if we have access to be able to do that, but we can only monitor the sites that we know about.”