A local U.S. Department of Homeland Security (HSI) operation resulted in the rescue of 31 victims of human trafficking for sexual exploitation, according to an announcement made by the department Wednesday. 

Of the total, 14 were missing children ,with the youngest child being four years old, and 17 were adults.

The results of the operation were announced by HSI Deputy Special Agent in Charge, Kansas City, James Wright. He was joined by Heartland Anti-Trafficking Rescue Task Force partners from across the region in making the announcement.

The operation took place from June 17 through 26, 2021 in Wichita, Kan., and Independence, and Kansas City, Mo.

The enforcement operation resulted in the arrest of 82 individuals who will be charged with crimes related to soliciting prostitution, commercial sex trafficking, sodomy, narcotics violations, felony assault on a police officer, sex offender registry violations and outstanding warrants.

Kansas City-based organization Veronica’s Voice, which works to empower women to exit from, to prevent the entry into, and to end all demand for prostitution-sex trafficking in the United States through survivor leadership, praised the operation’s results.

“All of us at Veronica’s Voice are excited to see the concerted efforts at the federal, state and local levels to identify adult and minor victims of commercial sexual exploitation, and to hold accountable traffickers and those who are purchasing sex acts,” Executive Director Lucy Bloom said in a statement. “Since 2000, Veronica’s Voice has been advocating for connecting survivors with services and holding offenders accountable. Kansas and Missouri taking this stance brings us great hope that we can see an end to this evil enterprise.”

Veronica’s Voice offers support to survivors through residential and non-residential services. The organization also has a 10 week class for offenders called Stopping Sexual Exploitation that addresses demand for commercial sexual exploitation and gives those who have been part of the root cause of this crime to now be part of the solution.

“We also applaud the recognition that minors who were recovered were registered as missing,” Bloom said. “The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that one in six missing youth are victims of sex trafficking. This is an extremely vulnerable population.”

Many of Veronica’s Voice survivor leaders and clients have experienced being missing or kidnapped. To continue to strengthen the safety of the community and raise awareness of missing persons, Veronica’s Voice will host Search KC, a point in time search for missing persons, Sept. 30 through Oct. 2, 2021.

HSI Kansas City along with HSI Wichita, Wichita Police Department, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, Kansas Highway Patrol, Health and Human Services, United States Marshals Service, Platte County Sheriff’s Office, Independence Police Department, Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, Missouri State Highway Patrol, the Bourbon County Sheriff’s Office, and the Hutchinson Police Department conducted the operation.

The defendants in this case are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial where the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of DHS and a vital U.S. asset in combating transnational crime and threats. According to the agency, one of HSI’s top priorities is to protect the public from crimes of victimization, and HSI’s child exploitation investigations program is a central component of this mission set. 

HSI is recognized as a global leader in this investigative discipline, and is committed to utilizing its vast authorities, international footprint and strong government and non-government partnerships to identify and rescue child victims, identify and apprehend offenders, prevent transnational child sexual abuse, and help make the internet a safer place for children.

To report a crime, call 866-347-2423 (TTY for hearing impaired: 802-872-6196) or visit the ICE Tip Line.