A three-day sting that was part of the FBI’s annual nationwide operation to combat sex trafficking led to the arrest of 11 pimps and 32 customers in Colorado and Wyoming, authorities announced Tuesday.
Nine children were rescued from these sex trafficking operations. The youngest was 14 years old.
"Tragically, traffickers lure children into prostitution when they are, the average age is 13. And once they are in - statistics show that they rarely get out," said Calvin Shivers, the FBI Special Agent in Charge.
The sting centered on hotels, truck stops, street corners and social media apps, the FBI said.
Two of the suspects were caught driving the victims – one an underage girl, the other over 18 – across the Midwest and selling them for sex along the way. Police found them in Denver after they advertised their business on a sex website.
Law enforcement officials estimate as many as 2,000 children in Colorado and Wyoming are sexually exploited each year.
"The pimps coerce, beat and threaten these young children to stay in the sex trade.The children don't know how to escape and the life expectancy once involved is approximately seven years," Shivers said.
George Brauchler, the district attorney for the 18th Judicial District, is part of the task force involved in the sting.
"I think if we spent a month doing this the numbers would be staggering and yet we still would not have eliminated it from our streets and our communities," Brauchler said.
He also said social media websites are making it difficult for law enforcement to stop sex trafficking.
"This issue isn't going away, it's only getting bigger and social media is part of that," Brauchler said.
This year, the FBI’s overall Cross Country Operation X recovered 82 victims all over the world, including in Cambodia, Canada, the Philippines and Thailand.
During last year’s six-day crackdown, 19 underage victims were rescued in Colorado and Wyoming and 153 pimps were taken into custody.