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Super Bowl XLIX is Displayed on the University of Phoenix StadiumSuper Bowl XLIX is displayed on the UOPX Stadium in Glendale, Arizona

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Law enforcement agencies in 17 states arrested nearly 600 people and rescued 68 victims of human trafficking during a sting in the lead-up to Super Bowl XLIX, police said.

As part of the “National Day of Johns” sex trafficking sting, spearheaded by the Cook County, Illinois Sheriff’s Office, police said that they captured hundreds of men and women attempting to hire prostitutes through websites such as Backpage.com and Craigslist. Police also said they rescued dozens of women who said they had been forced into prostitution.

“Sex trafficking continues to destroy countless lives, and this broad national movement should send a strong message to prospective johns that their ‘hobby’ is much more than a ‘victimless’ crime,” Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart said in a statement. “It’s particularly meaningful that this sting culminated on the day of the Super Bowl, which unfortunately has emerged as a prominent haven for sex trafficking.”

After last year’s Super Bowl in New Jersey, the FBI said it rescued 25 child prostitutes and filed criminal charges against 45 pimps.

Many of the girls had been reported missing in New York or New Jersey and were being held by members of trafficking rings who traveled to the Garden State for the Super Bowl last year.

This year’s sting took place from Jan. 15 to Feb. 1, ending the day of the Super Bowl.

Dart said 570 people were arrested on suspicion of soliciting prostitutes. More than 70 percent of those people were responding to advertisements for prostitution posted online, he said, adding that most of the ads were on Backpage.com.

Police also arrested 23 people on suspicion of sex trafficking and rescued 68 victims of trafficking, including 14 juveniles, Dart said.

In Phoenix, just miles from the site of Sunday’s Super Bowl, police said they rescued several women who told law enforcement they had been brought to Arizona specifically to work as prostitutes near the game, Dart said.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, the Alameda County district attorney’s office and Oakland police arrested 23 solicitation suspects, according to Dart’s statement.

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Sources:  The Los Angeles Times, The Associated Press, James Queally, Charlie Riedel

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