'Operation Innocence' began with an investigation in 2018 for a missing 13-year-old girl whose photo was found on a prostitution website.
A two-year-long investigation in Tallahassee finally winded down after nearly 180 people were arrested in connection with the solicitation of prostitution and human trafficking of children.
Operation Stolen Innocence is a large-scale investigation that began after the Tallahassee Police Department (TPD) focused on the case of a teenage girl who was being sexually exploited. What began as a search to retrieve the missing girl eventually led to the arrest of 178 people involved in this heinous child sex trade, as reported by USA Today.
During the ages of 13 and 14, the teenage girl was subjected to sexual exploitation. In November 2018, the police began their investigation after they went through a prostitution website and found the 13-year-old girl's photo online. This spurred an operation carried out by the Tallahassee Police Department's Special Victims Unit, who worked to ensure the girl was rescued, according to 25 News KXXV.
In July, 2020, it was reported by Tallahassee Democrat that the 13-year-old girl was rescued from the exploitative environment. Investigators were also able to retrieve text messages and chats from her social media accounts that were exchanged with other suspects in the case. Some of these conversations were sexually-charged and also included mentioning the time and place for meet-ups.
Two years since finding the girl's photo online, the department was able to charge 106 people with felonies, 72 were charged with misdemeanors, and 18 now have federal charges placed upon them.
Following the conclusion of the two-year investigation that began with the case of the teenage girl, TPD Chief Lawrence Revell said that in his 30 years of service with the department, there has "never been a case of this magnitude" in Tallahassee.
Great job, police! 178 arrests were made in a “large-scale” human trafficking investigation in Florida Tuesday. https://t.co/UO5UOVoIlP— NBC12 WWBT Richmond (@NBC12) November 17, 2020
"We know it's going on in our community. We need to address this and we know it takes state and federal partners," added the chief.
In a report that announced the conclusion of the two-year human trafficking investigation on talgov.com, Chief Revell was quoted saying, "This investigation is a testament to how diligent our investigators work to enhance the quality of life for everyone in this community, especially our vulnerable population. They worked tirelessly to bring justice to the victim in this case and were able to make an unprecedented number of human trafficking-related arrests. I could not be prouder of the steadfast efforts of our investigators and the joint effort with our partners to stop the illegal and dehumanizing practice of human trafficking."
The report also mentioned some of the alarming experiences that minors are put through when they are victims of human trafficking. These children could be coerced into some form of labor or commercial sex, and they could be abused in other ways as well.
Kevin Sibley, Homeland Security Investigations Tampa Acting Special Agent in Charge said, "It is difficult to comprehend the depravity of these criminals who prey on the most innocent in our society. Thanks to the collective efforts of the Tallahassee Police Department and HSI special agents, our local communities are significantly safer today as a result of this investigation."