37 arrested for child sex crimes, human trafficking during ‘Operation Broken Hearts’ in Arizona

Demonstrators in Keene, New Hampshire, gather at a "Save the Children Rally" to protest child sex trafficking and pedophilia around the world, on September 19, 2020. | AFP via Getty Images/Joseph Prezioso

In a multi-agency undercover mission called “Operation Broken Hearts,” police in Arizona announced the arrest of 37 people accused of child sex crimes and large-scale human trafficking.

“Throughout the operational period, officers and undercover detectives placed ads on websites and apps which are commonly sought out by suspects seeking illegal sex acts with children. These suspects solicited and/or brokered deals for various sex acts and were subsequently arrested,”Phoenix Police Department said in a statement Friday.

The Phoenix Police Department partnered with the police departments of Mesa, Tempe and Chandler, as well as Homeland Security Investigations and the Attorney General’s Office for Operation Broken Hearts.

Those arrested as part of the sting operation, in which the suspects solicited sex acts with undercover officers, are between the ages of 21 and 66. Most are from the Phoenix area, according to KIRO 7.

The operation was part of a nationwide effort to eliminate human and sex trafficking as dozens of children were rescued in the last year. 

In December, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office announced that 17 illicit massage parlors — two in Columbia, six in Kansas City, three in Lee’s Summit/Blue Springs, five in St. Louis and one in Branson — were evicted or shut down in the Show-Me State. 

This month, Schmitt’s office announced the rescue of eight victims of human trafficking, including a two-year-old and an infant, through a joint operation with several law enforcement agencies that include the FBI and the U.S. Marshals.

The “unprecedented success” of the joint operation “should send clear a message to traffickers: you are not welcome in Missouri, and you can’t hide any longer,” Schmitt said in a statement. 

“Human trafficking is a global scourge that affects millions every year, including right here in Missouri,” he added.

Last October, Schmitt announced the launch of the “Hope Initiative” to check human trafficking by targeting illicit massage businesses.

In January, a human trafficking investigation led by the FBI, called “Operation Lost Angels,” recovered 33 missing children, eight of whom had been sexually exploited, in California.

For the operation, which began Jan. 11, the FBI worked with more than two dozen law enforcement and non-governmental partners “to identify, locate, and recover missing children, particularly those who have been or were suspected of being sexually exploited and/or trafficked.”

Of the underage victims recovered, eight were being sexually exploited at the time of recovery, the agency said in a statement at the time. 

“Two were recovered multiple times during the operation while on the 'track,’ a common term used to describe a known location for commercial sex trafficking,” the statement explained. “It is not uncommon for victims who are rescued to return to commercial sex trafficking either voluntarily or by force, fraud, or coercion.”

In the 2020 report on U.S. Government efforts to combat trafficking in persons, the State Department warned about “the increasing number of people vulnerable to exploitation by traffickers due to the instability, isolation, and lack of access to critical services caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“The effects of COVID-19, as with other catastrophic events, are disproportionately impacting communities suffering from systemic or generational inequality — the same communities traffickers often prey upon,” the report said.

The FBI also revealed recently that its caseload for trafficking-related crimes, for both sex and labor, had increased significantly in the past several years. In 2020, the agency started 664 human trafficking investigations across the country, arresting 473 people.

Last August, the U.S. Marshals announced the rescue of 39 missing children in an operation in Georgia. At least 25 missing children were rescued last year through an operation in Ohio. Last October, the Department of Justice disclosed the rescue of 27 missing children in Virginia. 

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