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Three children rescued from prostitution by FBI in Sonoma County

  • Ron Hosko, assistant director of the FBI's Criminal Investigative Division, right, speaks during a news conference at FBI headquarters in Washington, Monday, July 29, 2013, about "Operation Cross Country." (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Three children in Sonoma County were rescued from prostitution over the last five days during a national effort that the FBI said led to the recovery of 105 juveniles in 76 cities.

Declaring child prostitution a “persistent threat” in America, the FBI announced the coordinated sweep dubbed Operation Cross Country resulted in the arrest of 159 alleged pimps.

A dozen children were rescued in the Bay Area, giving the region the distinction of having the highest number of child prostitutes found during the week's operation, San Francisco FBI Special Agent in Charge David Johnson said. Bay Area officers arrested 21 alleged pimps, including four in Sonoma County.

The Sonoma County Sheriff's Office as well as Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Rohnert Park police participated in the national effort, which was organized by the FBI's decade-long Innocence Lost National Initiative.

The Bay Area accounted for 11 percent of child prostitutes rescued and nearly 12 percent of the total number of alleged pimps arrested nationwide.

San Francisco FBI spokesman Peter Lee said that the Sonoma County teams focused on hotel operations with officers posing as potential customers. Websites offering erotic services provided a key tool for finding juvenile prostitutes.

FBI officials said the agency had been monitoring Backpage.com and other websites as a prominent online marketplace for sex for sale. Backpage.com said that it was “very, very pleased” by the raids and that if the website were shut down to the advertisements, the ads would be pushed to sites that wouldn't cooperate with law enforcement.

The young people in the roundup, almost all of them girls, ranged in age from 13 to 17.

In addition to the Bay Area, other areas with a high number of rescued children included the Detroit, Milwaukee, Denver and New Orleans. The operation was conducted under the FBI's decade-long Innocence Lost National Initiative. The latest rescues and arrests were the largest such enforcement action to date.

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