Two pimps were arrested in South Carolina and a teenage victim rescued in North Charleston following a child sex trafficking investigation.
The sting, which was led by the FBI, covered 106 cities including North Charleston and Columbia.
According to officials, 281 pimps were arrested on state and federal charges and 168 children were rescued. A 16-year-old victim was rescued in North Charleston.
"You have consumers willing to hire prostitutes in all those locations,” says FBI agent Brian Womble. “There wasn't one specific area. Certainly, there's an array of money to be made. It's a huge industry."
Womble says they worked with several law enforcement agencies, including the North Charleston Police Department. He says these kinds of operations must come together quickly as pimps don't tend to stay in one place for long, moving across state lines and national borders quickly.
"A lot of these people are transient so if you're planning for a long, long time, they're probably going to be gone."
While the investigation honed in on motels and hotels across the country, investigators also looked into social networking and classified ad sites. Womble says the victims are not always taken with force.
"A young victim who doesn't have much in life, doesn't have the family support, doesn't have the education, unfortunately, it doesn't take a whole lot of money to entice them."
He says this is the federal agency’s first sting in the Lowcountry.
"I wouldn't say Charleston has a larger threat than other areas in the country, but, certainly, it's an area we're focused on, and as the threat grows, we want to address it properly."
Since 2003, the FBI and its task force partners have recovered nearly 3,600 children from the streets. The investigations and subsequent 1,450 convictions have resulted in lengthy sentences, including 14 life terms and the seizure of more than $3.1 million in assets.