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April 20, 2019

Dozens arrested in US sex trafficking sting operation

Dozens arrested in US sex trafficking sting operation
'Undercover agents posed as minors and "johns" for the five-day operation in the adjoining cities of Saint Paul and Minneapolis in Minnesota' - By: AFP/File Alex Edelman

More than 50 people have been arrested in a sex trafficking sting operation coinciding with a major US sports tournament, and 28 alleged victims were rescued, police said Wednesday.

Undercover agents posed as minors and "johns" -- customers of prostitutes -- for the five-day operation beginning April 4 and lasting throughout the "Final Four", the penultimate round of competition in the college basketball tournament known as "March Madness."

The joint operation among 33 law enforcement agencies was timed with the arrival of tens of thousands of fans in the adjoining cities of Saint Paul and Minneapolis in Minnesota, for the hugely popular National Collegiate Athletic Association event.

The police chief in Saint Paul said that as the basketball tournament and associated festivities were taking place, some people were "trafficking and exploiting young women and girls, inflicting unimaginable physical and emotional harm."

"The Final Four May be over, but our work to seek justice for those who were harmed is just beginning," chief Todd Axtell said.

Forty-eight people were charged with felony solicitation of a minor or solicitation of prostitution under 16 years of age, according to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), Minnesota's chief law enforcement agency.

Eleven people were charged with sex trafficking or promotion of prostitution, the agency said.

One of the victims rescued was underage, according to the agency.

"This operation is an example of the aggressive steps necessary to stop traffickers and johns who buy and sell people for sex in our communities," BCA chief Drew Evans said in a statement.

The Minneapolis-Saint Paul area is one of 13 in the US with high incidence of child prostitution, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

The state's attorney general's office said about 40 percent of sex trafficking cases involve minors.

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