NEWARK, N.J. – Sixteen juveniles forced into working as prostitutes for the Super Bowl were rescued in the New York City area by the FBI in the weeks before the game, the agency said Tuesday.
Officials said the children, some of whom had been reported missing by their families, ranged in age from 13 to 17. Six were found in Newark, N.J., six in New York City and four in New Haven, Conn.
One of the minors, a 17-year-old girl, had spent the past two years with her pimp, said Michael Osborn, chief of the Violent Crimes Against Children unit at the FBI.
More than 50 adult women who were forced to work as prostitutes were also rescued. More than 45 pimps were arrested and numerous guns seized, according to investigators.
Some of the victims were from other countries, authorities said.
Osborn said pimps forced their victims to come to the New York City area from 13 states ahead of the game held Sunday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. The rescues and arrests all took place during the two weeks leading up to the game.
Authorities said the Super Bowl and other big sporting events provide potentially lucrative opportunities for sex traffickers. There are scant statistics and significant debate over how much trafficking actually increases during such events, but New Jersey, like previous hosts for the game, paid particularly close attention to it.
“We’re constantly evaluating intelligence to determine where the biggest threats are,” Osborn said. “Large sporting events draw a lot of people into a compressed area with a lot of disposable income and, as part of that, you attract a certain criminal element.”
The operation came after months of investigative work to find sex trafficking rings and training for legions of law enforcement personnel, hospitality workers, airport employees and others on identifying the signs of sex trafficking. The New Jersey Attorney General’s office set up a Super Bowl sex trafficking task force that included partners such as the FBI shortly after it was announced that the game would be held in New Jersey.
As Super Bowl Sunday approached, law enforcement officers working on the operation saw advertisements starting to spike and suspects starting to travel, Osborn said.
The FBI said its operation consisted of more than 50 law enforcement agencies. Last week, a Florida woman was arrested for allegedly trying to prostitute her 15-year-old daughter during the Super Bowl and authorities in New York City said the number of prostitution arrests jumped in the week leading up to the game.
Officials in New Jersey were particularly concerned that the state’s sprawling highway system, proximity to New York City and diverse population make it an attractive base of operations for traffickers.
The Super Bowl crackdown came on the heels of the FBI’s largest such effort in June, in which the agency said 105 children were rescued and 150 pimps arrested.
The FBI said it works with state and local authorities to assess the long-term needs of victims, including counseling, medical care and access to educational opportunities.
“The FBI and its partners remain committed to the identification and rescue of minor victims, and to hold accountable those who exploit children for financial gain,” said Aaron Ford, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Newark field office.