CHICAGO (CBS) – Nearly 70 children across the country, including three in the Chicago area, have been rescued in a disturbing investigation.

They had been forced into childhood prostitution in 40 cities.

CBS 2’s Kristyn Hartman talked local authorities about the cross-country sting.

There’s an underworld where sex is for sale, and minors are made to walk the streets.

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Marian Hatcher with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office counsels young girls she calls victims of the trade. Some have been as young as 14.

Just over the weekend, an FBI initiative called “Operation Cross Country 5” rescued three of them in the Chicago metro area. Across the country, 69 prostitutes were taken into protective custody.

“The minors … are being treated as victims,” not charged as criminals, FBI spokesman Ross Rice said.

Undercover agents responded to ads. At a few locations, minors showed up to hotel rooms to sell sex, and law enforcement arrested the people handling the young prostitutes.

“We’re targeting the people that either forced or were profiting from their illicit activities,” Rice said.

In all, they busted 49 adults in the Chicago region. Not all cases were youth-related, but three were.

“That’s huge,” Hatcher said.

Hatcher knows social services they will now get could change their lives, as they changed hers. She succumbed to the streets but beat it. Still, she said, it’s difficult, because of the control pimps exercise.

As for the local rescues, one of the girls just turned 17. The other two are 16. Authorities saved them at hotels in Downers Grove, Lansing and South Holland.

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