Raids on a network of sex traffickers around the southeast resulted in more than two-dozen arrests and the rescues of Latin American women forced to work as prostitutes, authorities say Friday. The undercover investigation identified a loose organization of independent traffickers who worked together to transport and exploit Hispanic women for prostitution in southern states, authorities said. An indictment filed in federal court in Macon charges 38 people with sex trafficking-related crimes, 29 of whom were arrested Thursday in eight southern states. The other nine remain at large. Investigators also rescued 15 people they believe are victims during raids on brothels and homes, authorities said. The arrests were made in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas.
Some of the victims were kidnapped and forced into sexual violence, while others were promised a better life and then held hostage by people who kept them financially dependent or threatened to harm or shame them or their families, a US attorney in Georgia says. All 38 people accused in the indictment are charged with conspiracy to transport a person in interstate commerce for prostitution. Six of them are also charged with conspiracy to participate in the sex trafficking of a minor and three are charged with promoting prostitution. The investigation began in July 2014 in the rural Georgia town of Moultrie. The indictment describes a network used to recruit young women, including underage teens, to work as prostitutes because men are willing to pay more to have sex with them. (Read more sex trafficking stories.)