45 missing children rescued; 179 arrested in sex trafficking operation

Forty-five missing children were rescued and 179 people arrested in one of the largest human sex trafficking operations in US history.

Ohio attorney general David Yost said 109 survivors were recovered as part of operation “Autumn Hope”, which involved more than 50 law enforcement agencies conducting simultaneous raids across the state.

The three-day sting across Columbus saw US Marshalls and undercover officers rescue children in Cuyahoga, Franklin and Lucas counties, including a 14-year-old girl reported missing from Cleveland and a 15-year-old girl reported missing from Lancaster about six hours earlier.

Another 15-year-old child boy, who was wanted on warrants for multiple shootings and homicide, was arrested with a loaded gun, officials said. More missing children were recovered in West Virginia during a traffic stop.

“The success of Operation Autumn Hope is measured not only in the number of arrests but in the lives that were rescued from this evil,” Mr Yost said in a statement. “Every agency on this team looks for the day when no person is bought and sold in Ohio. Don’t buy sex in Ohio!”

Of those arrested, 157 men were charged with soliciting and other crimes including firearm possession.

There were 22 individuals charged with seeking to have sex with a minor. Charges among those arrested included felony counts of importuning, attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, possession of criminal tools and other felony charges.

Autumn Hope is the third major anti-human trafficking operation in recent weeks, following Operation Safety Net in Ohio and Operation Not Forgotten in Georgia, which resulted in multiple arrests and rescued children.

The operation included the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Homeland Security along with state and local police and sheriff departments.

“These vulnerable members of our population usually slip through the cracks,” said sergeant Dana Hess, director of the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force.

“This operation highlighted the vast number of potential victims and allowed law enforcement the opportunity to make contact and link them to services.”

Rescued children and victims were referred to social services like the Cleveland Rape Centre.

Centre president and chief executive, Sondra Miller, said operations like Autumn Hope prevented many others being harmed by holding offenders accountable and reducing demand for human trafficking.

“Survivors of rape and sex trafficking deserve to be believed and have access to justice,” she added.

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