WASHINGTON -- The FBI announced Monday the arrests of 150 people and recovery of 105 children involved in child prostitution rings across the country.
The 76-city sweep, conducted in the past three days, represents the largest such law enforcement action focused on children forced into sexual slavery, federal authorities said.
Assistant FBI Director Ron Hosko, head of the bureau's criminal division, said the children ranged from 13 to 17 years old. The youngest of the victims was allegedly being offered up by her father, who also was allegedly involved in videotaping his daughter's sexual encounters.
"We have victims whose new normal is sexual abuse,'' Hosko said. "We are trying to take this crime out of the shadows and put a spotlight on it.''
In operations involving 230 separate law enforcement agencies, authorities either made arrests or child recoveries from Atlanta to Los Angeles. The weekend action, called Operation Cross Country, also is the latest in a national campaign that has helped recover 2,700 children since 2005.
Hosko said the children, generally recruited from foster care or group homes, were being offered up on Internet sites, at truck stops, casinos and street corners.
In addition to at least one parent, the alleged pimps included individuals acting alone and some with affiliations to organized crime. In many cases, Hosko said, the children "don't see any avenues of escape'' from their handlers.
John Ryan, president and chief executive officer of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, called the criminal activity "an escalating threat against America's children.''
Ryan said the law enforcement action "is saving lives.''
The largest number of children -- 12 -- were recovered in San Francisco during the weekend sweep. The most alleged pimps --18 -- were arrested in Detroit.
Criminal charges are expected to be brought both in the state and federal courts and will involve a variety of offenses, including human trafficking and coercion.
"Child prostitution remains a persistent threat to children across America," Hosko said. "This operation serves as a reminder that these abhorrent crimes can happen anywhere and that the FBI remains committed to stopping this cycle of victimization and holding the criminals who profit from this exploitation accountable."