“I look at my daughter, if it was her, would someone help her? Then I know that someone has to be me because they are all our sons and daughters.”
From an undercover operative when asked the reason why he cares about modern day slavery
From an undercover operative when asked the reason why he cares about modern day slavery
By: Corinne Shark
In January, we kicked off this calendar year with a multi-regional Exodus Road training comprised of 23 of our executive leaders, managers, regional lead investigators and volunteer investigators from Asia, India and the U.S. who all converged in Bangkok, Thailand for the event. The conference room buzzed with vision, information, stats, cultural context and legal processes. Digital presentations and manuals were dissected point by point. Expectations and conduct, objectives and standards were emphasized. Personal testimony and actual video footage stoked the flame within even the most seasoned operatives, bringing every detail, every number, back to real victims with real names.
Training is vital to the success of every rescue with which The Exodus Road is involved, because while the issue of human trafficking is extremely emotional, our search and rescue work is anything but.
Training creates a more well-rounded understanding for everyone involved. It’s important for our staff to see what our investigators go through. It opens their eyes to the difficulties each of us experience and humanizes the whole process of this work.-Jim*, Regional Director
Training protects the victim. We place a high value on our victim-centered approach and believe training our teams is imperative in maintaining this focus. Every member of the team, from undercover investigators to office staff, employs strategy and protocol at every turn in effort to protect the minors we are working to see freed from further danger and exploitation.
Training protects the investigator. Equipping our teams to assess and manage risk factors and to exercise safety tactics as they collect evidence in both red-light districts and rural villages is essential. Even though many of our operatives are former military/law enforcement, the darkness they engage night after night requires a heightened level of vigilance and self-care. We are committed to their health and well-being as they leverage their strengths on behalf of the vulnerable.
Training protects the big picture. We believe lasting change is found in empowering the national authorities as they engage the issue of human trafficking within their borders. Educating our staff and teams on our supporting role facilitates positive relations with local law enforcement as well as maintains our value on contributing to long term systemic change.
I am happy to have been able to transfer some of the knowledge to my operations team. Also, it was great to meet members of the volunteer team from the U.S. They are great people with good hearts coming here to help victims of human trafficking.- Som Piyathamsawat, Operations Manager
One of the most frequently asked questions presented to us at The Exodus Road is: Do you do have anti-human trafficking operations in the U.S.? The short answer is: Yes, and it’s growing! It’s called TraffickWatch.
Volunteers meet on weekend nights and are given assignments or places of interest to observe. They collect specific data, from the safety of their cars, and then make reports on what they see. This information is then fed into a database system, which highlights tips that are actionable, and then is delivered to local police partners. Currently, the TraffickWatch Program is in Colorado Springs and Phoenix, with plans to expand.
TraffickWatch stats in Colorado Springs:
Thank you for your continued interest in the success of this important program.
By: Corinne Shark
February 25, 2016 marked a day of freedom in Thailand for four girls, three of whom were minors, victims of sex-trafficking being sold the night before in the red light districts of Bangkok. Four Exodus Road Delta Team operatives together with 20 local law enforcement agents in association with the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Division of the Thai Royal Police conducted a simultaneous raid on four hotel rooms where two pimps were arrested for negotiating the sale of minors for sex and delivering underage girls to the hotel for service.
Strategic evidence collection on the part of The Exodus Road investigators combined with the ready response, mobilization and leadership of the Thai ATPD police resulted in an inspiring example of collaboration for the sake of the exploited.
DELTA team had the privilege of witnessing the well-orchestrated mechanics of the plan and especially noticed the care taken by the female officers present in each of the hotel rooms during the raid. “Their officers were efficient and professional, moved quickly to set up the operation, and the female officers showed a lot of care to the girls. We are honored to support their work any way we can,” stated Matt Parker, CEO and Co-Founder of The Exodus Road.
While their pimps were arrested and put in prison, the girls rescued were not charged with a crime. Instead they were treated as victims. This detail, as well as the fast action taken by the Thai police, brings hope to this work of fighting for freedom and inspires our support of local efforts all the more. Join us in celebrating this victory. Thank you for empowering rescue as we write four more names on four more stones.
Please take a moment to read the official press release from the case, which includes the law enforcement leadership who were critical players in this mission:
By: Corinne Shark
Following, you will see a unique look into the hearts of the volunteer operatives of The Exodus Road. Our teams infiltrate the shadows in the name of freedom, carrying heavy hearts for the captives they meet. As they investigate cases and gather evidence toward the rescue of victims of sex slavery, our men and women are bombarded with the smoke and lights and thumping music of brothels in red light districts. They wade through what lures the desperate so they can sit in the dark with the innocent.
As part of the decompression process to aid the investigators in working through the weight of their experiences, they take time to write letters to those they’ve encountered: a girl, a john, and a mamasan. Even though the subject will never receive and the words, each piece gives cathartic voice to the range of emotion kept in check while undercover.
Scott* writes to Miew,* one of the girls he met while gathering intel, not a victim of trafficking but a knowing and willing participant in the sex industry.
“As I sat and listened, you shared about how your father was sick and how you had to work to help support your family. Your sacrifice of leaving your family, going to a strange place alone, doing something like this that you’ve never done before, being uncomfortable so that you can bring comfort to your family, is honorable.”
He calls her honorable.
He sees beyond Miew’s forced smile and affirms the dignity already belonging to her, in spite of her circumstances. He sees past the #98 pinned to her costume and asks for her name. Dignity is what pimps and mamasans work to strip away, shame being their greatest weapon to ensure captivity, but it can never be fully stolen as it was never theirs to assign. Scott’s safe eyes and gentle smile attempt to remind her of what is true.
We cannot assign dignity, we can only affirm the dignity each other already possesses.
“At such an early age with so much innocence… I wish you could do anything but what you are doing. I want your innocence to remain, to not be stripped away by some john who only wants to use you for his pleasure.”
His heart is wounded once again. And yet with each crack wells up a renewed determination to keep working, keep wading through the darkness, shining light into the hearts of those breaking his.
By Julia Randall
Along a stretch of a major highway that travels through a rural area in India, families struggling to survive set up make-shift roadside brothels to for the sale of sex. A truck driver delivering goods to other parts of the country will stop to select a girl as young as 11 and disappear with her into a small shack before quickly returning to the road. When they are a little older, these girls will be sent to a bigger city to be sold to a larger brothel. This is deemed necessary and acceptable in a region where the burden of providing for parents and siblings falls on young girls.
However, freedom—and the cultural change that enables it—is coming to this part of India gripped by poverty and inequality. This was illustrated by a raid that local police conducted recently in which they arrested a trafficker and rescued six girls, including 12-year-old Tia* and 16-year-old Anna*. In demonstrating that trafficking is illegal, officials signal opposition and make it a much riskier endeavor, causing people to re-evaluate the cultural beliefs that encourage it.
The impact of the raid ripples far beyond the number of rescues in an area where the trafficking of minors can be common and cultural norms assign value to individuals based on gender, class and economic status. It heralds a change in the attitudes of locals who participate in an illegal practice in an attempt to survive the circumstances of poverty.
Members of The Exodus Road’s BRAVO team travelled 28 hours each way to reach this location in order to collect the intelligence and evidence that assisted police. The length of the trip and effort involved reflects the commitment of those working in India to bring freedom to the area. Their work is altering long-held beliefs as legal consequences force people to re-think cultural norms.
“(Residents) didn’t know it was wrong to do this and now they are understanding,” said The Exodus Road Country Director Sudir*.
The fight for freedom of the those trapped in trafficking is complex and multi-faceted. This case demonstrates the importance of combatting slavery by partnering with local government and law enforcement to increase awareness, along with the crucial need to establish a consistent presence in areas where trafficking is an everyday and often accepted practice. It is essential to work with local individuals and organizations as they honor us with the privilege of assisting in their efforts.
Social justice can only occur where equal rights exist. It is our aim at The Exodus Road to partner in support with Indian officials with the hope that, one by one, girls like Tia and Anna can be set free from slavery.
A special thanks to Messenger International for funding this successful mission.
*Names have been changed for security purposes
By: Corinne Shark
Freedom work is all-hands-on-deck and part of bringing you to the frontlines means bringing you in the front door of The Exodus Road offices. Today we are shining the spotlight on Panyapat “Som” Piyathamsawat, our Northern Thailand Operations Manager. As one of our national staff members, Som is an integral contributor to the function of the on-ground team in Southeast Asia. Prior to working with The Exodus Road she spent years in research, journalism and media analysis, produced television news, developed programming for USAID, and served as a freelance language translator. Som brings extensive experience in the value of trusted communication between collaborative sectors. She believes in the necessity of building relationships to achieve common goals. Som’s heart for the exploited impacts every aspect of her work and inspires hope in real and tangible ways.
What drew you to the cause of human trafficking?
My background experience in research and journalism made me aware of the infamous issue of trafficking here in Thailand, but at the end of the day the issue was still there. I was able to inform people but I wanted to participate in a concrete result. It was time for me to take the next step toward making an impact on peoples’ lives.
What is the most challenging part of this work for you?
Collecting enough credible evidence to convince the authorities to take action is always a challenge. Our job is to support the local police toward rescues and arrests which requires time, patience, good teamwork and trusted relationships. Good evidence without good relationships with law enforcement is worth nothing and so we work hard to build trust and solid partnerships. The Exodus Road has earned credibility and a positive reputation.
What has been most fulfilling?
Contributing to the team is exciting. For example, a group of 16 female leaders have been active in meeting the needs of the most vulnerable in their communities. Some are business owners, one holds an office and others serve their neighbors. I will be helping them understand the different forms of human trafficking and how they can help us identify those being victimized. We don’t know what’s happening in the smaller communities; but they do. Justice really is in the hands of the ordinary. I am an ordinary person and so are they.
ALPHA team in Thailand is comprised of managers, directors, a social worker, and investigators. Som’s role within this structure is to provide leadership and operational oversight, primarily to the investigators. We’re grateful for partners like Messenger International, whose community is helping to fund national salaries, like that of Som. We are also grateful to those who have joined ALPHA team and sponsor nights of investigation in this critical part of the world. This collaborative approach propels all of us closer to a world free of slavery.
Colorado Springs – A sold-out crowd gathered in The Pinery at the Hill to fuel freedom with The Exodus Road. The air was alive with a sense of purpose as donors connected with anti-slavery efforts and gave with overwhelming generosity. Long-lasting impact will be made because of what transpired at “A Night for Rescue.”
The evening began with an exclusive Q&A session with undercover operatives, moderated by Kevin Campbell, VP of Global Ops. Each investigator spoke about a specific moment in the field that moved them. They were able to share their personal motivations and answered questions about safety, logistics, and direct rescues.
The dinner guests then perused the silent auction items. The ‘Staycation Package’ provided by Neil Levy and Swiss Chalet of Woodland Park received the highest bid. Other high quality items were donated by Axe and the Oak Distillery, Bristol Brewing Company, Corner Post Meats, Distillery 291, Old West Cigar Co., Pikes Peak Mountain Bike Tours, and Team Extraordinaire. Lee Spirits, a local gin distiller, matched and then exceeded a private donation of $1 per “Cheers to Rescue” sold, which resulted in a significant amount raised from drink sales. A piece of live art was created and subsequently offered at the auction by local artist Lois Sprague, who specializes in large scale portraits and murals.
After the gourmet meal, MC Britt Ham of Trine Aerospace and Defense introduced the keynote speaker. Matt Parker, co-founder and CEO of The Exodus Road, shared details of recent rescues in India and Thailand. He spoke passionately about first-hand accounts of resilient survivors and the brave men and women who were integral to their rescue. The stories were inspiring. Rebecca Berry said, “Tonight was amazing! A fire was lit in [my husband] John! His wheels are spinning!” The chair of the event, Michelle Ham, had this to say, “The evening was truly a special one. It encouraged me personally to see so many people of Colorado Springs, Denver and Teller County come together to combat trafficking here in Colorado as well as globally.”
Many people helped make this a successful “Night for Rescue.” Various volunteers, led by Martha Cole, of New Life Downtown, worked alongside the staff team. This evening was also made possible by the generous donations of our Corporate Sponsors (listed below). At the end of the night the participants finalized their donations and silent auction purchases. Valerie and Griffin Stewart, co-founders and owners of 5daydeal, presented a special donation which helped to surpass the goal for the night. Everyone came together in a beautiful singleness of purpose. Altogether, the amount raised to fuel freedom was just over: $52,000.
By Julia Randall
A man stuck at sea, deceived and forced to labor long days under a hot Pacific sun. A domestic servant who hasn’t seen the world outside the home where she works in almost a year. A child who waits anxiously, unaware of what’s in store for her, as the price of her virginity is negotiated. Despite different backgrounds and situations, these individuals are bound together by the chains of slavery and fates they did not choose. Participate in Human Trafficking Awareness month by refusing to look away from the stories of those trapped in trafficking.
When he couldn’t find work in his native country in Asia, Troy* scraped together everything he could to pay a broker to find him work in a neighboring country. When he arrived at his destination, however, he found it wasn’t the pineapple canning factory he’d been told about. Instead, he was driven to a coastal port town and forced on a tiny, ramshackle boat to join other forced laborers in working 20 hours a day, seven days a week, hauling in nets heavy with fish before gutting and weighing them by hand.
Troy was told that his payment hadn’t covered his transportation costs, so he must work until he could repay his debt. However, he has yet to receive any payment. Shifted from boat to boat out at sea, he hasn’t seen land in almost three years.
When she was seventeen, Angeline* lived on the crowded streets of a city in India, in desperate need of food and shelter. Homeless after being kicked out of her home for disgracing her family, Angeline was elated when a woman claiming to be a recruiter offered her a job cleaning and caring for children in a well-to-do home in an upscale suburb. When the door of the home that would become her jail was closed and locked behind her, so was her freedom and future.
Five years later, Angeline works 18 hours a day, every day of the week, performing a slew of household tasks. If her work doesn’t meet her owner’s standards, she can expect a physical punishment and her body bears the scars of past mistakes, like the time she burned the rice, or when she tried to run away.
Tina* sits quietly in a stiflingly small and dirty room in a Cambodian brothel, wishing she could disappear. She was smuggled from her home in Malaysia to this brothel a week ago, after her parents sold her to a trafficker. She is an intelligent and feisty girl, but nothing in her rural upbringing prepared her for the forced sale of her virginity. She doesn’t know the language used by her new mama san (pimp) and the men interested in her, but she can tell from their tones and gestures that they are all evaluating her and bargaining fiercely.
After the final sale of her virginity today, Tina will be less valuable to her mama san but will continue to be forced to work in the brothel. She’s not yet turned 12.
Troy, Angeline and Tina are not alone. More slaves exist today than at any other time in human history. Be an abolitionist by sharing this post to participate in Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Use your voice to stand against slavery and share information from our website, Pinterest boards, Twitter account and Facebook page. You can also find information to share on Instagram, You Tube, and Vimeo.
You can impact stories like these by taking a first step towards action by advocacy. Advocacy is utilizing your influence and voice on behalf of a cause or person you care about. Would you consider sharing online this post or any other interesting article or video about human trafficking with your circle of friends and family? The first step towards mobilizing a movement lies in educating people about it.
* Names and identifying information have been changed for security. Each account is a composite profile of multiple human trafficking survivors.
On November 11, The Exodus Road team in India (known as BRAVO team) and local law enforcement rescued nine minor-age girls from a brothel in a raid that resulted in the arrest of 31 sex traffickers and controllers. More than 60 police officials were present in a rural part of India where, unfortunately, trafficking situations are common. This raid was unique in the large numbers of arrests made and police officers involved — making it a significant win for justice.
The Exodus Road’s BRAVO team was honored to be allowed to collaborate with police in the investigative phase of the mission and to work towards the common goal of securing freedom for minors trapped in sex trafficking — one of whom was a young teen named Saya*.
Saya*, age 15, had spent more than a year at the brothel which was busted during this case. Her family sold her to the traffickers themselves. Saya is now in the protective care of the local Social Welfare Department in India, and The Exodus Road social workers are following up with her personally. We are hopeful for the life that lays ahead of her, along with the future of each girl freed in this mission.
We salute each of the 60 members of the law enforcement, as well as the nationals who comprise our own BRAVO Team, involved in this rescue for the part each played in the fight for freedom. We’d also like to thank Messenger International for sponsoring the mission.