The U.S. Marshals service in Ohio has just completed the largest anti-human trafficking operation in state history.
Ohio Attorney General David Yost said more than 50 agencies were involved in the operation "Autumn Hope" which recovered 45 missing children, 109 human trafficking survivors and resulted in 177 arrests.
"The success of Operation Autumn Hope is measured not only in the number of arrests but in the lives that were rescued from this evil," Yost said in a press conference Monday. "Every agency on this team looks for the day when no person is bought and sold in Ohio. Don't buy sex in Ohio!"
The majority of the arrests occurred in the Toledo, Cleveland and Columbus areas.
Officials say the suspects were charged with felony counts of importuning, attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, possession of criminal tools and other felony charges.
"My thanks to all personnel who have stepped up for this operation," said Peter C. Tobin, U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of Ohio. "These are the same personnel who hunt down violent fugitives every day. I'm incredibly proud of them and pleased that they were able to apply those same skills to finding missing children. I know Operation Autumn Hope has made a difference in a lot of young lives."
Columbus Deputy Chief Jennifer Knight told local news outlets the women who were taken into custody during the operation were given a meal, medical treatment and offered help with any addictions.
"Our goal is to make survivors of each and every one of them," Knight said.
AG Yost said human trafficking is not just limited to urban areas and said Ohio's status as the "crossroads of America" plays a role as well.
"We have a lot of home-grown human trafficking too," Yost said. "It operates in the shadows."
U.S. Marshals say they were able to close 76 missing child cases.
Other agencies involved included Dayton Police, the FBI, the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, Columbus PACT Unit and the Cuyahoga County Human Trafficking Task Force.
"Operation Autumn Hope is sending a loud and clear message: We are watching, we will catch you, and we will protect our children," said Franklin County Sheriff Dallas Baldwin.