CHICAGO - A twelve-state human trafficking sting dubbed Operation United Front netted 102 arrests and freed 59 victims, including at least two minors, according to investigators in each of the states.
"The exploitation and repeated victimization of our children, our women and our men must end," Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Superintendent Drew Evans said in a statement, adding that although the operation has been completed, "our work is not over."
He pledged to continue tracking down and arresting human traffickers.
The states involved in operation United Front include Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin.
"We know that human trafficking transcends county and state lines, and multistate efforts like Operation United Front are essential to addressing the human trafficking crisis in our communities," Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said Wednesday. "Every arrest made leads to one less trafficker on our streets and sends a message that we will not allow any person to exploit another through labor and sex trafficking."
The operation involved attorneys general from all 12 states, along with state, local, and federal law enforcement agencies.
In many of the jurisdictions, undercover officers set up "dates" with suspected human trafficking victims, then met up with and rescued them, according to authorities. Some also posed as victims in order to arrest their alleged traffickers.
Roughly two-thirds of the victims required medical treatment, according to authorities, and almost half of the suspects were arrested in Kentucky – 46.
"Operation United Front is a great example of creating a better and safer Kentucky, one that is free of this hideous crime," Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said in a statement Wednesday.
Missouri investigators organized and helped train officers for the operation, according to Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who said his state’s anti-human trafficking task force is a national leader in bringing traffickers to justice.
"When we all come together, we can affect change and more effectively fight human trafficking, a crime that is often multi-jurisdictional in nature," he said.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection says that one in four victims of human trafficking or modern-day slavery are children – and the majority of forced laborers, including forced sex workers, are women and girls.
The Human Trafficking Hotline has a list of red flags that could indicate possible human trafficking situations on its website.