The FBI and Los Angeles-area police rescued two minors and arrested three pimps over the weekend. It was part of a nationwide sex trafficking sweep that found more than a hundred minors on the streets forced into prostitution.
The FBI's Innocence Lost Initiative picked up 105 teenage girls across the country during the three-day sting — all of them were between 13 and 17 years old. Two teens were rescued in the L.A. area.
Three sex traffickers in the Inland Empire and one in Orange County were among 150 people arrested nationwide.
The operation was coordinated across 76 cities. San Francisco had the most minors rescued, with 12.
"Child prostitution remains a persistent threat to children across the country," Ron Hosko, assistant director of the bureau's criminal investigative division, told a press conference.
For the past decade, the FBI has been attacking the problem in partnership with a non-profit group, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
The investigations and convictions of 1,350 have led to life imprisonment for 10 pimps and the seizure of more than $3.1 million in assets.
The FBI said the campaign has resulted in rescuing 2,700 children since 2003.
The relatively low numbers this year can be attributed at least in part to a growing awareness among the public and police of sex trafficking, said Laura Eimiller, a spokesperson for the FBI's L.A. office.
"They may report it if they see an indicator. Education is absolutely part of the problem. And coupled with what we're seeing on the streets, we're seeing a lot of it take place online with that — we're seeing a lot of victims being trafficked across state lines for that purpose," Eimiller said.
A study by the University of Southern California published last year found mobile devices and online networks are now key in sex trafficking of minors, especially since young people use text messaging about five times more than adults do.
The Justice Department has estimated that nearly 450,000 children run away from home each year and that one-third of teens living on the street will be lured toward prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home.
Congress has introduced legislation that would require state law enforcement, foster care and child welfare programs to identify children lured into sex trafficking as victims of abuse and neglect eligible for the appropriate protections and services.
"In much of the country today if a girl is found in the custody of a so-called pimp she is not considered to be a victim of abuse, and that's just wrong and defies common sense," Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said during a Senate Finance Committee hearing last month. Wyden co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.
This story has been updated.