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80 children recovered in operation targeting underage prostitution

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A three-day, nationwide law enforcement action known as "Operation Cross Country" led to the recovery of 80 children who officials say were being exploited through prostitution. Seven of those children were recovered in Milwaukee.

"Operation Cross Country" involved hundreds of FBI special agents with thousands of local police officers, deputy sheriffs, state troopers and other law enforcement personnel throughout the U.S. this past seven days.

Milwaukee-area officials, including authorities from Milwaukee, West Allis and Oak Creek made a total of 63 arrests -- most of the suspects caught in the area between South 6th and 35th Streets, bordered by National and Lincoln.

Officials say of the 7 local children that were arrested, every one is also a victim of sexual assault. Officials also arrested the highest number of juveniles in the nation during the operation in the Milwaukee area.

Officials said they weren't sure why Milwaukee led the nation in underage prostitution arrests during the operation. They say it's possible it's a big problem here, or it's possible the enforcement was better here than in other cities during the operation -- or a combination of the two.

"The prostitution is essentially a sign of an underlying problem, and that's the pimps that are taking advantage of the juveniles in our area and exploiting them for financial gain," FBI special agent Robert Botsch said.

"Operation Cross Country" is part of the Innocence Lost National Initiative that was created in 2003 by the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division to address the growing problem of domestic child sex trafficking in the United States.

This is the sixth time the FBI has put "Operation Cross Country" into action.

To date, the 47 Innocence Lost Task Forces and Working Groups have recovered more than 2,200 children from the streets. The investigations and subsequent 1,017 convictions have resulted in lengthy sentences, including eight life terms and the seizure of more than $3.1 million in assets.

Some of the underage prostitution suspects were sent to secure detention, sent back home to their parents or to a shelter.

Officials say their investigation is ongoing.

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