Some of the children who were recovered in the Federal Bureau of Investigation's huge sex trafficking sting in late July could go to jail if available resources are insufficient to find safe housing for them.
The FBI operation, which was carried out in 76 cities across the country along with the help of nearly 4,000 local, state and federal officers, resulted in the recovery of 105 sexually exploited children, most of whom were between the ages of 13 and 17, though some were as young as 9, reported ThinkProgress.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which partnered with the FBI to carry out Operation Cross Country, now says some of the recovered children may go to jail, at least temporarily.
"If there is nowhere to hold them, and nowhere safe for them to go, law enforcement has no alternative," the organization's director of case analysis, Staca Shehan, told U.S. News and World Report. "If they aren't placed in a juvenile detention facility, the child could run back to the prostitution scenario."
FBI spokeswoman Whitney Malkin confirmed to U.S. News that some of the child victims rescued in the sweep could be detained, but she called such circumstances "rare" and said more children would be placed in safe housing than imprisoned.
"Detaining victims ... falls far short of ideal," Malkin said. "The infrastructure to support the range of services just isn't there in many places."
Even if the 105 children are placed in safe houses or foster homes by the FBI, many of them live in states where others like them can be arrested for prostitution.
In California, one of the top juvenile recovery states in the FBI's recent sweep, trafficked children are routinely arrested for prostitution. Although many other states have "safe harbor" laws protecting minors from being criminalized for prostitution, California is not one of them. A bill that passed the California Senate -- SB 738 -- would give new protections to sexually trafficked minors, but it has not been signed into law yet.
In Michigan, another state where the FBI recovered a high number of sexually exploited minors, anyone 16 or older can be put in prison for the crime of prostitution, even if it's their first offense.
For boys and girls under 16 who are sexually exploited, Michigan state law doesn't always protect them. "The sex trafficking and CSEC [Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children] laws do not prohibit a defense based on consent of the minor to the commercial sex act, making it possible that a victim may have to prove a lack of consent" in Michigan, explains a 2012 report by Shared Hope International, an anti-sex trafficking nonprofit organization.
That same report, which graded all 50 states on legal protection for children who are victims of sex trafficking, gave both Michigan and California an "F."
If you or someone you know has information about child sex trafficking, contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI.
WATCH: Alex, a sex-trafficking victim, speaks about her experience.
WATCH: Raw footage from the FBI's raids