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More than 2 dozen sex trafficking victims recovered in Colorado

Five people were arrested and eight other people were identified as possible human traffickers, the FBI said Wednesday.

COLORADO, USA — Five people were arrested and more than two dozen sex trafficking victims were recovered during a crackdown by law enforcement across Colorado last month.

The FBI in Denver said Wednesday that a total of 27 victims, eight of them juveniles, were recovered in the state as part of a nationwide campaign called "Operation Cross Country." In addition, the FBI said that 14 other children were located through the operation.

"This problem is here.  It surpasses all demographics.  It is across the board, and so it is something parents should have on their radar," Mark Michalek, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Denver Division, said.

More than 40 agencies and organizations across Colorado participated in a two-day operation that resulted in the five arrests and the identification of eight other trafficking suspects. No names were provided.

"There's a misperception, I think, in the community that these are victims that were abducted off the street," said Michalek.

According to the FBI, one of the victims, a 16-year-old girl, was being trafficked by her father in exchange for drugs. Another 16-year-old girl who had been reported missing by her foster family in April was located at a Centennial hotel with a known trafficker.  The Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office says this incident is still being investigated.

Those two victims and the other children were reunited with their parents or guardians and were provided support services.

RELATED: How well is the state's human trafficking campaign working?

The Denver task force is one of 89 across the country. It operates all year long, not just during national targeted efforts. During a similar effort last year, the FBI Denver Division located 11 child victims, 27 missing and endangered children and 11 adult victims.

A Denver Police Lieutenant says victims often come from vulnerable situations, like a child who is homeless, or has abusive parents.  He says traffickers prey on those vulnerabilities.

"The traffickers often find that providing drugs, food, and shelter is successful means to manipulating their victims," said Lt. Aaron Rebeterano, Denver Police.

He says many of the traffickers are lower level drug dealers, or gang members.

"That have figured out selling a human being for sex acts is more lucrative than selling narcotics," said Lt. Rebeterano.

Nationally, the FBI and its partners located 59 minor victims of child sex trafficking and child sexual exploitation offenses and located 59 actively missing children during its two week operation in July.

RELATED: How many human trafficking tips convert to court cases?

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