By Mike Hellgren

BALTIMORE (WJZ)—A major nationwide sting rescues almost 200 children being exploited for sex, including several in Maryland.

Investigative reporter Mike Hellgren is digging into the problem of human trafficking and what’s being done about it.

This operation barely scratches the surface, and Maryland’s location makes it attractive to predators.

Nicole was just 17 when a man forced her into prostitution. She endured beatings, including one that left her with six broken ribs.

“I was strong, but I wasn’t strong enough, and the more I stayed, the more I got weaker,” she said.

I-95 is the backbone for some child sex traffickers. And in Maryland, with access to major transportation routes, prostitution is big business.

“It’s a bad problem. Over the last 18 months in the Baltimore office, we have rescued 49 juvenile prostitutes,” said Steve Vogt, special agent in charge FBI Baltimore.

That includes six in Baltimore City, three in Anne Arundel County, one in Montgomery, 18 in Prince George’s and 20 in Baltimore County.

In the latest sting, agents targeted casinos and truck stops.

Police rescued two 16-year-olds. They found the victims online. They also found 33 other young women being exploited by pimps.

“These are not far away kids in faraway lands. These are our kids,” said James Comey, FBI director.

Jeanne Allert runs the Samaritan Women, a facility like no other in Maryland–providing long-term housing to women who’ve been exploited.

“What we do have is the real evidence of real lives. Our facility is full. That should tell you something,” Allert said. “We know that this is just the peak of the glacier, that there are many, many more who are being unnoticed in this crime.”

Victims hidden in plain sight with few places to turn for help.

“We are in some major centers of affluence. If you look at Washington, D.C. to New York, even down to Atlanta. We’re right in the middle,” Allert said.

The FBI dubbed the sting “Operation Cross County.” They rescued the most children in Denver and arrested the most pimps in Phoenix.

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