WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An FBI-led operation against child sex trafficking across the United States has resulted in the arrest 281 pimps and rescued 168 children, some of them missing from juvenile welfare systems, officials said on Monday.
Operation Cross Country VIII was carried out last week in 106 cities and involved 54 FBI field divisions. The youngest child recovered was 11 years old.
"The lesson of Operation Cross Country is that our children are not for sale and we will respond and crush these pimps who would crush these children," Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey told a news conference.
The largest number of juveniles rescued was 18 in Denver, followed by Chicago at 13. Phoenix had the most pimps arrested at 21, with Jackson, Mississippi, No. 2 at 19, the FBI said.
Operation Cross Country, aimed at halting child sex trafficking, has been carried out periodically since 2008. This year 392 law enforcement agencies were involved and the number of cities was a record.
Comey said the biggest change since the start of Operation Cross Country has been the increasing use of the Internet as a child sex medium.
John Ryan, president and chief executive of the non-profit National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said that about 10 percent of the juveniles rescued had been missing from child welfare systems.
The frequency that children are lost from welfare systems underscored the need for Congress to pass legislation that would mandate reporting juveniles missing from systems to authorities, he said.
Florida and Illinois require reporting of juveniles that have been lost from welfare systems. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children had 4,000 reports in the last year from the two states, Ryan said.
Figures from the center for 2013 showed that about two-thirds of children being exploited were missing from child welfare systems, Ryan said.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Jim Loney)