A nationwide trafficking crackdown has led to the rescue of 79 children who are victims of child sex trafficking, the FBI said Tuesday.
Local and state law enforcement also arrested 104 pimps on a variety of prostitution-related charges.
"Child prostitution remains a major threat to children across America" Kevin Perkins, acting executive assistant director of the FBI's Criminal, Cyber, Response and Services Branch, said.
"It is a violent and deplorable crime and we are working with our partners to disrupt and put behind bars individuals and members of criminal enterprises who would sexually exploit children," he added.
The three-day law enforcement action, dubbed "Operation Cross Country," rescued children between the ages of 13 and 17. Experts say predators often find these kids on the streets after they've run away from home.
"These are the kids who are on the streets trying to figure out how to survive," Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, explained.
"The pimps, the exploiters, the predators who prey upon them hone in on these kids and they play upon their weakness," he continued. "They offer them kindness, shelter, friendship -- even love. However, at some point these kids discover they've lost the ability to walk away."
More than 8,000 law enforcement agents across the country participated in "Operation Cross Country."
Since the FBI began focusing on child trafficking in 2003, it has rescued more than 2,200 children from the streets and convicted more than 1,000 adults.
"They're [the children] truly hidden victims," Allen said. "They're manipulated. They're violated in all kinds of ways. They truly are 21st century slaves."
Road to Recovery
The next challenge is to help the rescued victims recover. The FBI said the children will receive medical care and counseling.
Across the country, Christian organizations are beginning to address the need for shelter and recovery programs for child trafficking victims. The Hope House in North Carolina is one such ministry.
Staff say the work is tough because the victims usually suffer from mental as well as physical abuse and often don't see themselves as victims.
"I feel like a lot of what we're doing is stabilizing them, helping them learn healthy boundaries and self-esteem, maybe some trust that there are people who care, there are people who want to help them," Emily Fitchpatrick, founder and president of On Eagles Wings Ministries, explained.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that 100,000 kids are victims of child sex trafficking in the United States every year.