Sex trafficking is an insidious beast. It takes place in the shadows, and secrecy is a currency. Traffickers have many tactics to keep girls enslaved . . .most commonly, by removing them from their home country, taking away their passport, and having them work in a country where they don’t know the language and have no community or resources. Even more insidious is the trafficking of children. On our first day with the Exodus Road, one of their investigative teams showed us an undercover video of two girls, around the age of 14 or 15, standing helplessly as men bartered over their virginity. Little did their captors know, the men who were there to barter were actually undercover agents. That video helped to prosecute them and put them away.
This is the only way to fight sexual trafficking. To walk into the shadows. To go face-to-face with the traffickers . . . to gather evidence and to partner with police and to prosecute in court. While rescue is a part of the job. Matt Parker explained that the real goal is prosecuting traffickers. Without that level of follow-through, traffickers recover from a rescue by finding another person.
It takes a lot to do this work . . . it takes guts of steel and resolve and patience and organization and self-sacrifice. While I was in S.E. Asia, I got to spend one night in a rural village with one of Exodus Road’s investigative teams . . . specifically the Delta team. I wish so badly that I could share photos of these men . . . that I could outline each unique personality and gift mix that makes them perfectly suited to work in this field and to operate as a cohesive team. Alas, these are undercover agents, and so I need to protect their identities. But these men are coming from backgrounds in personal security, in the military, the police force, and paramedics, and now they have dedicated their lives to putting these skills to use to give freedom. Some of them are retired and this is how they are spending their retirement . . . in a far-away land going into the depths of depravity night after night because they feel called to do so. These men have seen unspeakable things and yet there is no hardness about them. They tear up as they talk about certain cases. They share their strategies for keeping their cool in the presence of some of the world’s most evil people.
The Delta team wanted to walk us through a typical evening of investigations. They emphasized that this wasn’t a practice run or for show . . . they had a specific target in mind (a girl they had been tracking who they assumed to be underage and trafficked across the border) and they were going to visit her and gain more evidence to present to the police. It’s important to note that the Exodus Road isn’t doing rogue work. Their job is to partner with local authorities and to present the evidence needed to stage a raid as well as to prosecute. The flow of intel goes both ways. The police share information with them, and they share back. The scope of the problem is too great for the local police to handle alone, and as you can imagine the profile of these men (and specifically that many of them are white) means that they can go undercover in ways that local police cannot. In fact, one day of our trip we had a meeting with a Lt. Colonel of the police department, and he shared how much this partnership was helping them fight trafficking.
Before we set out that evening with Delta team, we met to go over some case files and to have a briefing on the evening’s investigation. The Delta team runs like a well-oiled military machine and they take everything very seriously – down to the briefings and de-briefings. Their case files are painstaking detailed, and in each investigation nothing is left to chance, even if it means rehearsing or rehashing each investigation. In fact, that was one of the things the team wanted us to see . . . that this work isn’t all raids and rescues. That this work is sometimes tedious and unglamorous . . . that it requires time and patience and vigilance and commitment.
That evening, the civilians (bloggers) stayed in a hidden car as the investigators entered several rural brothels in search of their target, and also in search of potential targets. The team were equipped with cameras so that they could record everything. Evidence is key in prosecution but also in identifying victims. That’s another aspect to this work . . . while every investigation is fueled by intel, each investigation is also an opportunity to gain new information. On this particular night, the target was identified, but several new targets were as well.
It was fascinating to be a part of, and made me understand how difficult this work is. After the investigation, we debriefed and watched the footage they obtained. They discussed next steps. It wasn’t a dramatic rescue . . . yet. But this is how rescues are made. This is how traffickers are taken down. Slowly, deliberately, methodically. And it’s working. In 2013, Exodus Road assisted with 250 victim rescues in partnership with local police, and helped make 90+ arrests.
The Exodus Road is currently supporting 45 undercover investigators. Delta is one of many teams, but it’s the team I’d like to invite you to support. It’s hard to explain the immediate affinity we felt with these guys, but several times in the past few days. Heather, Jamie, Roo and I have mentioned how much they’ve impacted us. And we are still in contact – we are in a private facebook group of Delta team supporters where the investigators regularly give us updates on the work they are doing. That’s one of the things I love about the Exodus Road model. It’s authentic and transparent and hands-on. The supporters really are partners.
My goal for this Indepedence Day weekend is to get 100 new supporters for Exodus Road. So I am inviting each of you to join us. For $35 a month you can help fund the investigators who make up Delta team. You can join our facebook community and stay posted with what is going on, and really be the fuel that drives these recues. While not all of us can move to S.E. Asia and do this kind of work, we can support the people who do. We can help bring freedom to people whose circumstances are much different than our own.
If you are compelled to help, here’s how you can join us.
First, click on the blue “add your link” button below to indicate your commitment. (You don’t have to actually add a link. But if you have a blog or a website, go for it! If you want to donate anonymously, that’s cool too! Just write ANONYMOUS below.)
Then, go click on the image below (or here) to sign up as a monthly donor for Delta team:
And last, consider sharing this on your social media channels. Thank you!!