15 sex trafficking victims among 39 missing children recovered in Georgia

A two-week operation in metro Atlanta and Macon resulted in the recovery of 39 missing children.

Credit: U.S. Marshals Service

Credit: U.S. Marshals Service

A collaborative effort that spanned two weeks in Georgia led to the recovery of of 39 missing children, including 15 who authorities said were trafficked for sex.

“These are not children that are in some faraway land,” said Donald Washington, director of the U.S. Marshals Service. “They are America’s children and they are kids that we need to go and find.”

ExploreAJC: 15 sex trafficking victims among 39 missing children recovered in Georgia

As part of “Operation Not Forgotten,” members of the U.S. Marshals Service, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and several other agencies conducted searches at dozens of homes, apartments and hotel rooms across metro Atlanta and Macon in search of the missing children.

Those recovered ranged in age from 3 to 17, Washington said. Some had been missing for two weeks while others had been away from their families for two years.

Of the 39 children recovered, 26 were considered “endangered” by officials. The operation also led to the arrests of nine people, some of whom now face sex trafficking charges. Others were charged with parental kidnapping, registered sex offender violations, drug and weapons possession and custodial interference.

“The harsh reality is that every 40 seconds a child is abducted in the United States,” Washington said.

Members of the U.S. Marshals Service, the GBI and several state and local agencies conducted searches at dozens of Georgia homes, apartments and hotel rooms in search of the missing children.

Credit: U.S. Marshals Service

Credit: U.S. Marshals Service

Of the more than 421,000 children missing in the U.S., 91% are considered endangered runaways, he said, and about one-sixth of those are likely to become sex trafficking victims.

Some of the children recovered were reluctant to leave their homes, which officials said often happens when a child or teen is repeatedly subjected to sexual abuse. Those who are rescued in Georgia receive medical treatment and mental health counseling at the Stephanie V. Blank Center for Safe and Healthy Children at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta hospitals, officials said.

“It’s really important for these children that once they’re recovered, we can start the healing process,” said Dr. Stephen Messner, a child abuse pediatrician who serves as medical director for the center. “By involving us at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, we’re able to start that process right from the get-go.”

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