'Rescued from this evil': 179 arrested, 45 missing children recovered in Ohio's 'Operation Autumn Hope'

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Law enforcement agencies across Ohio cooperated in a monthlong investigation, dubbed Operation Autumn Hope, that led to 179 arrests and the recovery of 45 missing children.

In all, 109 human trafficking victims were rescued and referred to social services, the Ohio Attorney General's Office reported. More than 50 agencies participated in the operation, which also included the arrest of a man and the recovery of two children in West Virginia.

“My thanks to all personnel who have stepped up for this operation,” Peter Tobin, U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of Ohio, said in a news release.

He added: "I know 'Operation Autumn Hope' has made a difference in a lot of young lives.”

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More than 70 missing and exploited children cases were cleared, according to the attorney general’s office.

“These vulnerable members of our population usually slip through the cracks,” Sgt. Dana Hess, director of the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, said in a statement. “This operation highlighted the vast number of potential victims and allowed law enforcement the opportunity to make contact and link them to services.”

The operation included four priorities, according to the attorney general’s office: "Rescuing victims of human trafficking and referring them to social services, recovering missing and exploited children, apprehending those seeking to have sex with a minor" and "arresting male johns seeking to buy sex.”

Similar operations have taken place around the nation and in Ohio.

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In August, Operation Safety Net, also in Ohio, led to the discovery of 25 children ages 13 to 18 in less than three weeks, according to the U.S. Marshals Service. At the time, officials said the operation was likely to continue into October.

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Georgia's Operation Not Forgotten helped recover 39 children ages 3 to 17 in August. Nine people were arrested in that operation, officials said.

In Indiana, eight missing children were rescued during Operation Homecoming in September.

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"Over the past five years, the USMS has recovered missing children in 75% of the cases it has received," according to the Marshals Service. "And of those recovered, 72% were recovered within 7 days. Since 2005, the USMS has recovered more than 2,000 missing children."

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children responded to more than 10,700 reports on possible child sex trafficking in 2019, according to the agency. The center reports it helped with more than 29,000 cases of missing children.

“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,” Ohio Attorney General Yost said in a news release.

Contributing: Jessica Flores and Joel Shannon, USA TODAY; Sean McDonnell, The Akron Beacon Journal; Lydia Gerike, The Indianapolis Star

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Operation Autumn Hope' finds 45 missing children in Ohio; 179 arrests