Children for sale is a chronic problem in Chicago and across the country. For ten years the FBI and local authorities coast-to-coast have been tracking and arresting thousands of people in the child sex trades and nearly three thousand children and teenagers have been freed from sex slavery rings.
Over the weekend in 76 cities and suburbs, prostitutes and their pimps were arrested and children forced into the sex trades were found and returned to their families.
In cheap motel rooms, on street corners, and in parking lots, teams of FBI agents and police officers moves in on prostitutes and the people who put them out for hire.
In many cases authorities say, the prostitutes are required to work by the men who pay them.
"One of the most prevalent, violent and unconscionable crimes in this country," said FBI assistant director Ronald Hosko.
From the southwest suburbs, where two women were arrested for prostitution, to the northwest suburbs, where three were charged; to west suburban Naperville that had four arrests, Operation Cross Country crisscrossed Chicagoland with additional arrests in Arlington Heights and Elk Grove Village.
There was one pimp charged in the Chicago sweeps and FBI officials say two children were found, having been forced into the prostitution trade, among 105 who were found enslaved in the current raids.
"When these children are recovered from the control of their pimps, typically their only possessions are the clothes that they are wearing," said John Ryan, National Center for Missing Children.
The feds have made underage paid sex arrests across the nation since 2003, sweeping up pimps and prostitutes of all ages along the way. Still, the cycle of victimization continues.
"They can take everything from you," said Alex, a former child prostitute. "Your voice, your freedom. They can take even your fight, your will, but you cannot ever let them take your heart."
In spite of the compelling stories, federal authorities say that in most of these cases, it is local charges as a result of the arrests, not federal cases. In only very few of these cases across the country will those arrested face federal trafficking charges.
Operation Cross Country criss-crossed Chicagoland with additional arrests in Arlington Heights and Elk Grove Village. Assisting the FBI were the Naperville Police, Cook County Sheriff's Police, Chicago Police Department, Amtrak Police, the Winnebago County Sheriff's Police, and police in Alsip, Arlington Heights, Aurora, Bedford Park, Elgin, Elk Grove Village, Lansing, and Rockford. Federal agents say the U.S. Attorney's Office and Cook County State's Attorney's Office were also involved.
Raw FBI video of this weekend's raids
Full interview with Alex, former child prostitute
Raw video of 2009 FBI arrests
Raw video of January 2012 FBI arrests