CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It's the world's fastest growing organized crime and it's touching every corner of the Carolinas. “I can tell you there is a problem here in Charlotte,” said FBI Supervisory special agent Jason Caplan.
The FBI, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is teaming up for "Operation Cross Country XI". They conduct stings in Charlotte and throughout the area to try to put an end to human trafficking, one victim at a time.
"Operation Cross Country XI", which involved 55 FBI field offices and involved 78 state and local forces, ran from Oct. 12 to Oct. 15. The FBI said nationwide, 120 alleged traffickers were arrested and 84 minors were recovered.
In North Carolina 11 people are now behind bars and three sex trafficking victims, all minors, have been saved.
“Majority are our children, our neighbors, kids at our school,” said Detective Ashley Horton, CMPD.
Many girls are "groomed" on social media.
“The phones and computers, as amazing as they are, they're also a detriment when you look at how many people can actually reach you,” said Horton.
Starting in their early teens, the girls are brainwashed. Police warn if a child has access to wi-fi, sexual predators have access to them -- and they're likely meeting right under your nose.
“They meet at the mall, at the transit center, at school. We've got people meeting just down the street in neighborhoods,” Horton said.
There are simple things that parents, teachers, neighbors and friends can look for and spot a problem before it's too late. Horton says to pay attention to the following:
- Are they missing school often?
- Are they showing up with things you know you didn’t purchase for them or you know they can’t afford?
- Are they suddenly getting their hair done, getting new clothes and getting their nails done that they haven’t done before?
As part of the crackdown, FBI agents and task force officers across the country staged operations in hotels, casinos and truck stops as well as street corners and internet websites.
The youngest victim was just 3 months old. The average age of those recovered was 15, according to the FBI.
“We at the FBI have no greater mission than to protect our nation’s children from harm,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “Unfortunately, the number of traffickers arrested—and the number of children recovered—reinforces why we need to continue to do this important work.”