A week-long FBI sting operation rescued 168 children from across the United States and brought them home to safety. The bureau announced on Monday, with the help of local law enforcement agencies, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) working with 54 FBI divisions, arrested an additional 281 pimps.

Operation Cross Country VIII was a week-long effort to rescue as many children and arrest as many pimps as possible. Throughout the 106 cities FBI agents targeted with the help of over 400 law enforcement agencies, children were reclaimed to safety and away from the drug-laden, physically and mentally abusive world of sex trafficking. "Our children are not for sale ... We will respond and crush these pimps who would crush these children," James Comey, the CEO and president of NCMEC, said in a statement Monday, CNN reported.

Since 2003, the various FBI operations have led to the recovery of more than 3,400 children, 1,450 sex trafficking convictions of pimps and participants, 14 life prison terms, and the seizure of more than $3.1 million in assets. “These are not children living in some faraway place, far from everyday life. These are our children. These are America’s children,” Comey said.

After gathering information from usual places such as casinos, truck stops, websites that advertise escort and dating services, along with strip clubs and street corners, the FBI attacked. They worked with the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices to charge those running the child-prostitution rings with federal prosecutions.  

Trafficking people for sex generates $9.5 billion every year in the United States, and approximately 300,000 children are put at risk for prostitution in America, according to the Department of Justice. The average age of prostitution is 13 to 14 years old, and it’s only getting worse with the ease at which the Internet can advertise and sell children.

“Child sex traffickers create a living nightmare for their adolescent victims,” Leslie Caldwell, assistant attorney general for the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice, said in a statement, TIME reported. “They use fear and force and treat children as commodities of sex to be sold again and again. This operation puts traffickers behind bars and rescues kids from their nightmare so they can start reclaiming their childhood.”

The average victim is oftentimes forced to have sex between 20 to 48 times a day, and those nameless thousands who are stuck inside this dark and unnatural system don’t get to keep their money. A pimp will make $150,000 to $200,000 per child each year, and with the average four to six girls per pimp, they make a fortune on the exploitation of children.

What happens? How does a child even become trapped inside this abusive and unhealthy cycle, which includes rape, regular beatings, drug abuse, and STDs? One in three teens on the street are lured into prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home, according to the National Runaway Hotline, and with 450,000 runaway children each year, the numbers climb higher.

"Just one call, just one online report could mean all the difference for a child who now can only dream of a normal childhood and a life outside prostitution," Caldwell said.