NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- Sixteen juveniles forced into prostitution — including some teens who had been reported missing by their families — were rescued by the FBI in a two-week operation leading up to the Super Bowl, the agency said Tuesday.
Officials said the children ranged in age from 13 to 17 and were found in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.
More than 50 women who were also forced to work as prostitutes were also rescued and more than 45 pimps were arrested, according to authorities. Officials said many of the women and children were forced to travel to the New York City area during the Super Bowl.
"The FBI and its partners remain committed to the identification and rescue of minor victims, and to hold accountable those who exploit children for financial gain," said Aaron Ford, special agent in charge of the FBI's Newark field office.
Authorities said the Super Bowl and other big sporting events provide potentially lucrative opportunities for sex traffickers. There are scant statistics and significant debate over how much trafficking actually increases during such events, but New Jersey, like previous hosts for the game, paid particularly close attention to it.
The operation came after months of investigative work to find sex trafficking rings and training for legions of law enforcement personnel, hospitality workers, airport employees and others on identifying the signs of sex trafficking. The New Jersey Attorney General's office set up a Super Bowl sex trafficking task force that included partners such as the FBI, shortly after it was announced that the game would be held at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
The FBI said Monday its operation consisted of more than 50 law enforcement agencies. Last week a Florida woman was arrested for allegedly trying to prostitute her 15-year-old daughter during the Super Bowl and authorities in New York City said the number of prostitution arrests jumped in the week leading up to the game.
Officials in New Jersey were particularly concerned that the state's sprawling highway system, proximity to New York City and diverse population make it an attractive base of operations for traffickers.