DENVER (KDVR) — The FBI Denver Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force and its partners recovered 27 victims of sex trafficking during a two-day targeted operation in July.

“Operation Cross Country” happens every year nationally. The initiative is focused on locating victims of sex trafficking and holding the traffickers accountable.

In Colorado, the task force recovered eight juvenile and 19 adult victims of sex trafficking. Fourteen children were located. Five alleged traffickers were arrested and eight others were identified for investigation.

FBI: Traffickers exploit vulnerable youth

Mark Michalek, the FBI Denver Special Agent in Charge, said the suspects are hiding in plain sight.

“This isn’t a kidnap off the street scenario that you might see in a movie. What we see is sex traffickers identifying vulnerable minors and exploiting them,” he said.

This photo provided by FBI Denver shows a Denver hotel room outfitting for use during "Operation Cross Country
This photo provided by FBI Denver shows a Denver hotel room outfitted for use during “Operation Cross Country” on July 21, 2023. (FBI)

Experts say the victims come from all different backgrounds, but Denver Police Lt. Aaron Rebeterano said traffickers are targeting young people with mental health and addiction issues.

“The traffickers often find that providing drugs, food and shelter is an acceptable means to manipulating their victims,” he said.

Once the victims are recovered, the focus is on getting them support and resources.

“Once recovered, these children are often addicted to drugs, have physical injuries, have sexually transmitted infections, are pregnant or are malnourished,” said Michelle Dossey, division manager at Arapahoe County Human Services.

The task force operates all year, not just during Operation Cross Country, and agents encourage residents to help identify potential victims.