Salt Lake City police arrested a 28-year-old man during a nationwide law enforcement sweep aimed at finding suspects involved in human trafficking.
The FBI Child Exploitation Task Force’s annual effort, called Operation Cross Country XI, involved undercover officers canvasing websites that advertise prostitution, as well as areas known for the crime, according to a news release.
The Salt Lake City Police Department Organized Crime Unit participated in the sting from Oct. 13-15, the FBI announced Wednesday.
The man was arrested on Oct. 13 at a West Valley City motel, confirmed Salt Lake City police Detective Richard Chipping. The man was booked into the Salt Lake County jail on suspicion of exploiting a prostitute, a third-degree felony.
Police also made contact with seven Salt Lake City women involved in prostitution during the sweep, the FBI confirmed. The FBI did not arrest any of the woman, who were instead pointed toward services aimed at helping them “find a way out of that lifestyle,” said FBI spokeswoman Sandra Barker.
The FBI’s focus was on finding minors and adults who have been trafficked, rather than women willingly engaging in prostitution, Barker said.
Chipping couldn’t confirm whether the Salt Lake City police arrested any of the women, because of ongoing investigations, he said.
This year, the FBI coordinated with local law enforcement across the nation, as well as in Canada, the United Kingdom, Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines. Across the of scope of the investigation, officers arrested 120 suspects in connection with human trafficking, and rescued 84 youths.
None of the youths were found in Utah, Barker confirmed. But because of the amount of travel the traffickers do, there’s a chance they may have been in Utah at one time.
“These numbers are just a snapshot of a bigger picture,” Barker said.
Utah is not only not immune to the problem, “we‘ve been told [it’s] a popular destination, because the Johns are considered to be nice,” Barker said.
And while there are local investigations nearly every day, according to Barker, the nationwide initiative allows law enforcement to cast a broader net.
“Intelligence gained from simultaneous operations conducted across the country gives investigators a better understanding of the criminal threat,” the news release stated.
This year’s operation was the FBI’s 11th. The program is part of the FBI’s Lost National Initiative, under which teams work to recover trafficking victims.