US child prostitution crackdown leads to FBI making 150 arrests

105 young people, mainly girls aged 13-17, freed in three-day sweep across US covering 76 cities, as part of Innocence Lost National Initiative

The FBI, the US's federal law enforcement agency, says it has arrested 150 alleged pimps in a crackdown on child prostitution, covering 76 cities.

The agency freed 105 young people, mainly girls aged 13-17 as part of its decade-long Innocence Lost National Initiative. Operation Cross Country has been the FBI's largest so far as part of the initiative.

The agency, which described child prostitution as a "persistent threat", said it had been monitoring Backpage.com and other websites as a prominent online marketplace for sex for sale.

The site said that it was "very, very pleased" by the raids, but warned that if it was to be shut down, the ads would be pushed to sites that would not co-operate with law enforcement.

"Child prostitution remains a persistent threat to children across the country," Ron Hosko, the assistant director of the bureau's criminal investigative division, said. "We're trying to put this spotlight on pimps and those who would exploit."

Liz McDougall, the general counsel for Backpage.com, said that if that site was shut down because of the ads for child prostitution, the information that could lead to the rescues would be lost to police and intelligence agencies because the ads would be pushed to "offshore uncooperative websites".

"We feel very strongly that we're doing the right thing, and we're going to continue to do the right thing and we congratulate the FBI and everybody with the task forces involved in the programme," she said.

Hosko said the plight of the young people often went unreported to authorities because the children were often no longer in touch with their families.

Pimps operated wherever vulnerable potential victims could be found and some were being recruited right out of foster care facilities, he added.

The FBI said its campaign has led to the rescue of 2,700 children since 2003. Some 1,350 people have been convicted, leading to a life imprisonment sentence in 10 cases.

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