Nightmares are coming to an end for 45 missing children in Ohio after Operation Autumn Hope helped bring them home, according to the U.S. Marshals Service.
A monthlong effort to find missing children in the state led to 179 arrests by the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, according to a release posted on the Marshals’ Service website.
Marshals Service offices in the Southern Ohio and Southern West Virginia districts partnered with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force to break up human trafficking operations.
“My thanks to all personnel who have stepped up for this operation,” Peter C. Tobin, U.S. marshal for the Southern District of Ohio, said in a statement. “These are the same personnel who hunt down violent fugitives every day.
Thank you for all your hard work and for always remembering the children lost to, “Human Trafficking.”
— Eileen Aloni (@EileenAloni) October 27, 2020
“I’m incredibly proud of them and pleased that they were able to apply those same skills to finding missing children. I know Operation Autumn Hope has made a difference in a lot of young lives.”
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said many victims were rescued from sex traffickers.
“The success of Operation Autumn Hope is measured not only in the number of arrests but in the lives that were rescued from this evil,” Yost said in a news release. “Every agency on this team looks for the day when no person is bought and sold in Ohio. Don’t buy sex in Ohio!”
The Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force and Franklin County Sheriff’s Office Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force arrested 22 people seeking to have sex with a minor.
Charges of those arrested included felony counts of attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor and possession of criminal tools.
Across Cuyahoga, Franklin and Lucas counties, 157 men were arrested on charges of soliciting and other crimes, the release said.
“These predators shamelessly target the most innocent and defenseless members of our community,” Franklin County Sheriff Dallas Baldwin said in a statement. “Operation Autumn Hope is sending a loud and clear message: We are watching, we will catch you, and we will protect our children.”
The new crackdown comes on the heels of Operation Safety Net in August, which rescued more than 25 children.
“These are kids that have been abused, neglected. Some involved in human trafficking,” U.S. Marshal Pete Elliott told WOIO-TV in Cleveland that month.
Elliott said many of the children fled one nightmare to land in another.
“Sometimes the situations they go to, believe it or not, may be better than the situations they left from,” he said.
“We’ve had some cases where the mother and or father, or both, may have been prostituting their own child,” the marshal said.
Earlier this year, the Marshals Service recovered 39 children in a similar operation in Georgia dubbed Operation Not Forgotten, Darby Kirby, chief of the Marshals’ Missing Child Unit, told USA Today.
In the Georgia operation, 15 children were victims of trafficking, and most would be considered runaways “who fell into the human trafficking realm,” according to Kirby.
“When we track down fugitives, it’s a good feeling to know that we’re putting the bad guy behind bars. But that sense of accomplishment is nothing compared to finding a missing child,” Kirby said in a news release concerning the Georgia case posted on the unit’s website.
“It’s hard to put into words what we feel when we rescue a missing child, but I can tell you that this operation has impacted every single one of us out here. We are working to protect them and get them the help they need,” Kirby said.
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