As part of the nationwide sting called "Cross Country" over the weekend, FBI agents picked up two alleged pimps and three teenage child sex trafficking victims in the Birmingham metro area.
During their three-day sting in 76 U.S. cities, the FBI arrested 150 alleged pimps and recovered 105 children they say were being trafficked for sex. The youngest prostitution victim was a 13-year-old recovered in Birmingham.
The Birmingham-area victims were between 13 and 17 years old and were all from out of town, brought in to serve what the FBI says is an active local market for child sex workers.
The FBI and a local outreach group both said as shocking as the arrests may seem, there is much more of this happening in Birmingham.
"It's something we've been looking at for a while, and it is no surprise to us. We do know that this kind of activity goes on, we think it's under reported, and this kind of operation underscores that it does happen here," Paul Daymond with the FBI's Birmingham office said.
Daymond says this is just one of multiple investigations going on right now in the Birmingham area.
"It does underscore that people in this area are willing to pay for sex with children. And I think it's very disturbing and something people need to be aware of. Human trafficking does happen, and it does happen in our own backyard," Daymond said.
Tajuan McCarty, founder of the organization The WellHouse, says she's thankful that the investigation is shedding light on the human trafficking problem in Birmingham.
"Definetly not surprised about the girls being found at all. I'm very grateful, and I'm grateful that awareness is being brought that we have a problem," McCarty said.
McCarty knows firsthand the pain and almost unimaginable lives these child sex workers live.
"The first time I was brought to Birmingham I was 15. Within 48 hours I was approached by a pimp and began to be exploited throughout the Southeastern U.S.," she said.
McCarty now leads The WellHouse, a shelter for sex trafficking victims that has helped more than 70 women in just two years, almost all of them from Alabama.
On Monday, as they do every week, a group from The WellHouse walked the streets along First Avenue North in Woodlawn, an area they say is a known prostitution zone, praying with and for people they encountered and trying to spread the word that there is help.
"It's right here in Birmingham," Lisa Holifield, a member of The WellHouse group, said.
"People feel like they need to go to a third-world country to discover that, and it's going on right here locally and we see it weekly," Holifield said.
The FBI hasn't released the identity of the two pimps arrested here or what charges they may face.
The three teenagers recovered as part of this operation in Birmingham will be returned to their families if they can be found or placed in the custody of the state.
"If you're a pimp in this area, we're coming for ya," FBI Agent Daymond warned.
"Be aware of that, so get out of town. Because if you don't, we're gonna come after ya," Daymond said.
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