Twenty-nine people are facing charges for being involved in a ring trafficking Somali and American girls for sex.
US police arrested the men and women in Minnesota and Tennessee yesterday for allegedly sending girls, some younger than 13, from Minneapolis to Nashville for sex between 2000 and 2010. They said one 18-year-old was sexually assaulted.
"Trafficking children for sex is intolerable and the Department of Justice will aggressively enforce trafficking and other laws to eliminate these types of deplorable acts," said US Attorney Jerry Martin.
"As shown here today, law enforcement agencies at every level will come together to bring the full force of justice to bear on individuals who choose to profit by victimizing innocent children," he told Agence France Press news service.
The suspects, some possibly related, were either gang members or knew Somali-American gangs, the Somali Outlaws, the Somali Mafia and the Lady Outlaws, police said.
They are also charged with trying to block the investigation, lying to a jury, stealing a car and making 231,000 dollars in false credit card charges over one year.
John Morton from the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the case was serious because the girls were repeatedly victimised over several years and transported to many places.
"Human traffickers abuse innocent people, undermine our public safety and often use their illicit proceeds to fund sophisticated criminal organisations," he said.
"ICE is committed to bringing these criminals to justice and rescuing their victims from a life in the shadows."
Jibril Hirsi, of the Somali Community Access Network in Columbus, said police told him last month that the arrests were coming and asked him whether he knew anything about the activities of these gangs.
He said he didn't. But he said one Columbus woman about 19 years old visited his office recently to ask for his help.
"There was one young woman subjected to this kind of thing,” he told the Columbus Dispatch newspaper. “They took pictures of her engaging in sex. She was very traumatised," said Hirsi, who said he doesn't know if she was victimized by those indicted.
Sex trafficking offences involving children carry a penalty of no less than 15 years to life in prison in the US.
Human trafficking exists in countries all over the world not just the poorest. According to the United Nations, it is the third-largest and fastest-growing criminal industry in the world with more than 1.2 million children and young people trafficked every year.