33 Missing Children Recovered in Los Angeles

This weekend, the FBI announced that it had recovered 33 missing children in an anti-human trafficking effort called "Operation Lost Angels." The FBI field office in Los Angeles said that the operation began on Jan. 11 and progressed over the last few weeks. One suspected trafficker was arrested on state charges, while several others are now under investigation.

The FBI said that eight of the children they recovered were being sexually exploited at the time of their recovery, though the status of the others was unclear. The agency recovered two children multiple times in the same operation — a rare phenomenon, they said. Typically, victims of human trafficking to not return to their captivity "either voluntarily or by force, fraud, or coercion."

"This harmful cycle highlights the challenges victims face and those faced by law enforcement when attempting to keep victims from returning to an abusive situation. Victims may not self-identify as being trafficked or may not even realize they're being trafficked," read the FBI statement.

The rescues in this operation also ranged into other areas of what is considered "human trafficking." The FBI said that one child was recovered from a noncustodial parental kidnapping, while some minors who were recovered "were arrested for probation violations, robbery, or other misdemeanors."

Still, all of these are important to keep in mind during January, which is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. The statment said that the FBI's caseload "for both sex and labor trafficking-related crimes has increased significantly in the past several years." Kristi Johnson, the L.A. office's assistant director, said that it remains one of the bureau's top priorities.

"The FBI considers human trafficking modern day slavery and the minors engaged in commercial sex trafficking are considered victims," Johnson said. "While this operation surged resources over a limited period of time with great success, the FBI and our partners investigate child sex trafficking every day of the year and around the clock."

The Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department both aided the FBI in this project, along with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. More than a dozen other agencies played a part as well. Leaders are hopeful that the details of these cases, while shocking, will help Americans identify the signs of human trafficking and exploitation in the future.

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"Human trafficking is a pervasive and insidious crime that threatens the safety of our young people, who are the future of our communities," Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said. "We can only begin to take back the future of our youth with the strong partnerships forged between outstanding service providers and law enforcement."