FILE - U.S. Department of Justice DOJ

The U.S. Department of Justice in Washington D.C.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is cracking down on the multi-billion dollar business of human trafficking in the U.S.

In June, 1,700 people were arrested nationwide for allegedly committing child sex and exploitation crimes as part of a nationwide DOJ initiative called, “Operation Broken Heart.”

“As the perception of sexual exploitation of children continues to move from windowless vans in back alleys to Dark Web sites on the Internet, the investigation and prosecution of these vile crimes must continue to evolve,” said Bobby L. Christine, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. “We are determined, with our law enforcement partners, to find these criminals wherever they try to hide and protect the innocent from victimization.”

This operation, conducted during April and May by the Internet Crimes Against Children task forces, resulted in the arrests of nearly 1,700 suspected online child sex offenders. The task forces identified 308 offenders and 357 child victims.

The task forces investigated more than 18,500 complaints of technology-facilitated crimes targeting children and delivered more than 2,150 presentations on Internet safety to over 201,000 youth and adults nationwide, the DOJ reports.

Human trafficking crimes, defined in Title 18, Chapter 77 of federal law, involve “the act of compelling or coercing a person's labor, services, or commercial sex acts,” according to the DOJ’s website. “The coercion can be subtle or overt, physical or psychological, but it must be used to coerce a victim into performing labor, services, or commercial sex acts.”

Prior to Operation Broken Heart, the DOJ’s human trafficking enforcement website reads like a rap sheet of criminals arrested nationwide.

In June, a Tampa man was arrested and charged with trafficking two teen girls; a Houston man was convicted of sex trafficking adult women by force; a federal judge sentenced a man to life in prison for forcing women and children to engage in commercial sex acts in Chicago and the suburbs.

In May, a federal jury convicted 27-year-old Houston resident and member of The Sauce Factory for conspiracy and sex trafficking.

In March, a former Stockton, California, couple was convicted of human trafficking charges related to forced labor of foreign nationals; in New York, the founder of “NXIVM,” a purported self-help organization based in Albany, was arrested for sex trafficking and forced labor conspiracy. His secret society allegedly branded women with his initials, and women served as his slaves whom he coerced into performing sex acts.

Between January and March 2019, nine defendants were sentenced to significant prison terms for sex trafficking and related offenses in Des Moines.

In February, two Delaware men pleaded guilty to sex trafficking a 15-year-old girl in Baltimore; in San Diego the last of 12 members of a Westside Crips criminal street gang pleaded guilty to a racketeering conspiracy involving drug trafficking, sex trafficking and other violent crimes.

In January, a leader of a Queens, N.Y.-based child sex trafficking ring was sentenced to 15 years in prison for trafficking a dozen minors in New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, using Backpage to advertise underage girls for sex.

“Children are supposed to be protected by adults, not used as a means to make money,” William F. Sweeney, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge of the FBI’s New York Field Office said in a prepared statement.

According to the national hotline, HumanTraffickingHotline.org, there were 4,460 reported cases of human trafficking in 2017 from the calls the hotline received.

The 10 states with the highest number of reports of human trafficking are California, Texas, Florida, Ohio, New York, Michigan, Nevada, Georgia, Illinois, and Pennsylvania.

Of the top three, more than 800 human trafficking cases were reported in California. In Texas, 433 cases were reported, with the majority of victims being foreign nationals.

Of the 329 reported cases of human trafficking in Florida, 215 cases involved sex trafficking; 120 victims were minors and 277 victims were female.