Rescued girls in human trafficking bust were 12-17 years old

Image 1 of 6

Nineteen children were rescued from a human trafficking ring selling local kids as sex slaves all over the country.

Twelve suspected pimps were arrested in the undercover sting. Cities the children were included Detroit, Madison Heights, Ferndale, Kalamazoo, Redford Township, Warren, Dearborn and Clinton Township.

Guns, teens clothing and condoms were found across metro Detroit as the FBI, state and local police were involved in the operation, announced on Tuesday.

"They were being assaulted either sexually, physically," said Sgt. Edward Price of Michigan State Police. "A lot of times they deal with mental abuse."

Over a five-day period the operation was planned for three months, called "Operation Cross Country," rescuing 149 sexually exploited children in 135 cities. About 150 suspected pimps are now behind bars.

Metro Detroit had the second-highest number of children rescued in the sting. All girls, 12-17 years old and their living conditions were described as horrible.

"Sleazy hotel rooms that are dirty, a lot of times there are needles and drugs in these rooms, or houses as well," said Price. "There could be crack pipes, there could be needles. They might be keeping the girls hooked on drugs to keep control of them."

Police say they relied on information from national agencies, tips from the public and the internet.

", Craigslist, there are thousands of websites advertise."

Police say human trafficking is not just a problem in the city, adding many of the girls rescued were not found in Detroit but in the suburbs.

"The traffickers are really focusing on the vulnerable class amongst us, our runaways, our neglected kids," said Lisa Halushka. "And they can be found anywhere. it is not an inner-city problem."

Halushka is a Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School professor and a juvenile and criminal justice expert. She says these victims face a lifetime of recovery and could get restitution.

Police say those 12 suspected pimps face potential charges at the state and federal level, possibly up to 30 years in prison for the production and distribution of child pornography. As well as charges of human trafficking of a minor.

But these investigators say they don't feel that's enough.

"To know that an exploiter who took advantage of an individual could be free and clear in 10 to 25 years is just not right," said Michael Glennon of the FBI.

"We're not going to stop fighting for these kids," Price said.