Phoenix police announced Friday that, while working with other local police departments, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Arizona Attorney General’s office, they had arrested 37 suspects in a child sex trafficking ring they dubbed “Operation Broken Hearts.”
Undercover officers made most of the arrests by placing ads on websites frequented by people seeking sex with children, then arresting those who made deals for sex acts with children through the sites.
The area had been a hot spot for child sex trafficking throughout the coronavirus pandemic, even through shutdowns.
After initially going virtual, the children were eventually made to go back out onto the streets, AZFamily.com reported.
Sex trafficking continued during pandemic
“Victims are wearing less and less clothing, and they are having to do more to attract customers. But there are lots of customers out there,” Director of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research at Arizona State University Dominique Roe-Sepowitz said in April.
The Phoenix police said their operation was part of a nationwide effort to stop sex trafficking and break up rings around the country that traffic thousands of children into sex work each year.
In January, a separate probe rescued dozens of trafficked children in California as part of “Operation Lost Angels.”
“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 Department Police Chief Michel Moore said at the time.
An ongoing problem
Business Insider reported that an estimated 18,000 to 20,000 children come into the U.S. and are sex trafficked each year. As many as one in seven runaway children in the U.S. also end up being sex trafficked.
Much of the child sex trade is now online and on the dark web, but minors also travel with their handlers to be trafficked in other locations.
People can look for children traveling on airplanes who seem drugged or disoriented and not in control of their own boarding passes or tickets, BI said.
Phoenix police pointed out that anyone with information about sex trafficking should call local law enforcement or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888 or visit humantraffickinghotline.org.