700 arrested in national child prostitution sting

WASHINGTON — Federal officials announced Monday that 52 children had been saved and nearly 700 people had been arrested and charged over the past three days in a nationwide crackdown on child prostitution.

FBI officials, along with representatives of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and police agencies throughout the country, said the arrests were the results of investigations in 36 cities.

The sweep, dubbed Operation Cross Country, is part of the Innocence Lost National Initiative, started in 2003 to address child sex trafficking in the U.S.

The arrests are "extraordinary, almost historic," said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "It's an incredible model. I think it's working. We're having an enormous impact on this business."

To date, the initiative has rescued nearly 900 children, led to the conviction of 510 pimps, madams and their associates, and seized $3.1 million in assets, according to the FBI.

"It is repugnant that children in these times could be subjected to the great pain, suffering, and indignity of being forced into sexual slavery for someone else's profit," Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said in a statement.

The Internet, Allen said, was the "greatest tool" at investigators' disposal, though it cut both ways because the alleged pimps use it to communicate with each other and hunt for victims from the privacy of their homes or motel rooms.