ATLANTA (WSAV) — The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) says it identified and rescued 84 minor victims of child trafficking and sex abuse and located 37 missing children as part of “Operation Cross Country.”   

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) says Georgia is a hotspot for human trafficking with a large international airport, easy access to highways across major cities and several large sporting events. 

FBI and GBI say human trafficking has gone up because of the pandemic, with child pornography cases soaring by 40%.

“The issue that law enforcement is with all the changes of COVID, the way sex trafficking and how they are advertised, and recruiting has all changed,” Special Agent Taylor Dervish said.

“The incidence of reports has gone up from 14,000 to 19,000 in cybercrime and child pornography and we saw a spike when people were at home on their laptops,” John Melvin, Interim GBI Director said.

FBI agents say victims are getting younger — some as young as 11 — and are being trafficked by gangs, cybercriminals and even family members for a profit. 

“Through the pandemic, we have seen cyber tips — child sexual abuse, child pornography, molestation,” Dervish said. “Specifically we have seen an uptick in sextortion crimes when someone gets child sexual material a juvenile, getting them to take pictures of their private parts and getting them to extort them for money.”

FBI said the average age of victims found in Georgia ranged from 14 to 17 years old.

FBI said they’re seeing less advertising online but more street walk and social media to recruit victims, and recently located 141 adult victims of human trafficking and arrested 85 suspects for sex trafficking offenses.