WASHINGTON - There were more than 150 arrests and 149 children rescued in a nationwide sex trafficking sting, and a Virginia police department was part of the operation.
Alexandria police joined forces with the FBI last week for Operation Cross Country, a national effort to rescue children who were being trafficked for sex and arrest the alleged pimps who abuse them.
Authorities set up a sting at a hotel in Alexandria City. They used online ads and arrested a man after he got there and asked an undercover officer for sex.
Police also answered an ad for a 20-year-old woman selling sex, and surveillance outside the hotel found her pimp waiting for her in a car.
"When it comes to trying to determine if a prostitute is being trafficked, or if she's in it of her own will, we have to interview them," said Crystal Nosal with the Alexandria Police Department.
While Alexandria police did not find any victims of child sex trafficking on this operation, they were prepared for it.
"You can't keep your eyes closed. You always have to look for it, think of it as a possibility of occurring, so that if you do encounter a juvenile, you're asking the right questions," said Nosal.
Nationwide, last week's stings were at places known for prostitution: hotels, casinos and truck stops.
This was the ninth joint effort with the FBI, law enforcement and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
In all, the FBI says they found 149 children across the country who were being used as sex slaves. The youngest was just 12 years old.
"As these recoveries are coming in during the operation, we're all ecstatic because we're saying, 'Great they're finding more and more kids.' But it's also mixed feelings because we wish, quite frankly, that this was an operation that didn't have to occur," said Angela Aufmuth of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
Law enforcement also arrested 150 pimps and others who exploited the children to have sex for money. This was a one-week effort, but the FBI operates year-round looking for child sex trafficking victims and their abusers.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
National Center for Missing & Exploited Children: 1-800-THE-LOST
Violent Crimes Against Children Program: https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/vc_majorthefts/cac
Tips on Child Sex Trafficking: 1-800-CALL-FBI (800-225-5324)