Anchorage-based FBI agents offered assistance to several local victims during a nationwide sting targeting underage sex trafficking conducted over the last week.
According to a Tuesday statement from the FBI's Anchorage field office on Operation Cross Country, October's action was the ninth annual sweep as part of the FBI's Innocence Lost initiative targeting offenses against children. FBI agents were joined by Anchorage police, backed by the offices of U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler and Anchorage District Attorney Clint Campion.
"In Anchorage, our Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force attempted to provide services to nine possible victims of commercial sex trafficking; the youngest victim contacted was 19 years old," FBI officials wrote. "In addition, a variety of drugs were seized including meth, heroin and ecstasy."
"Traffickers prey on the most vulnerable in our community, our children," Anchorage Supervisory Special Agent Kurt Ormberg said in a statement on the sting. "We want to send a clear message, if you are exploiting children, we will find you. There is no place for you in our society aside from behind bars."
FBI spokeswoman Staci Feger-Pellessier wouldn't discuss details of who trafficked the people involved, but said the victims spanned a variety of ages.
"It was 19 years to someone in their forties," Feger-Pellessier said.
Authorities encountered the victims over the course of several days after setting up both "in-call" services, where clients meet sex providers at a specified location, and "out-call" services, in which the providers travel to meet clients. Some of the victims also directly contacted the FBI for help.
"Whenever we encounter a victim, we're always offering services," Feger-Pellessier said. "Whether they take it is up to them, but we're always offering services."
Feger-Pellessier said the drugs recovered during the operation were small quantities being used by the victims. None of them will face charges in connection with their use.
The state will handle any potential charges of underage sex trafficking in connection with the sweep, according to Feger-Pellessier, because federal law defines underage people as those under 18, but state law defines underage as under 20.
On a national level during Operation Cross Country, authorities found 149 underage trafficking victims and arrested a total of 153 alleged pimps.