We met Sarah in a brothel in Cambodia.
There was a line of prostitutes behind a glass wall, a fishbowl they call it. They were sitting on high bar stools, with heavy make-up and short skirts, numbers pinned to their shoulders, displayed for the customers on the other side of the glass.
And then, they brought in Sarah. She was “fresh,” the pimp had told our lead investigator over the phone. Sarah was dressed in street clothes, head down, hands fiddling nervously with a napkin. She was 15 and had been sold by her mother in a neighboring country several days before to work off a debt which her mother owed. Sarah’s virginity had been sold three days prior for $600 USD.
Sarah could not speak the local language, was kept under close watch daily, and had no access to a cell phone or any communication from the outside world. She had been slipped illegally across borders by a system of traffickers that has become a global highway of modern day slaves.
With covert cameras, our investigators were able to record the sale of Sarah for the night, capturing valuable evidence that could be passed on to the trusted authorities in hopes of the pimp’s prosecution. Later, behind a closed door, our operative was able to call a social worker who spoke Sarah’s language. He explained that he was there to help her, not to hurt her, and that he could aid her escape if she wanted. Unfortunately, Sarah was too scared to run, too scared to trust a stranger, understandably.
The following day, our investigator returned to visit Sarah in the brothel, just blocks away from a crowded local market. She scribbled a note, “Please Rescue Me,” on a bill and slipped it to him.
She wanted out, but didn’t know the way.
Immediately, our investigator gave his testimony and video evidence to the authorities and asked the government to conduct a raid on Sarah’s behalf. It was believed that 10 or more girls were also being held against their wills at the same brothel where we found Sarah.
But what Sarah doesn’t know is that rescue is coming.
Working in connection with the local government in Southeast Asia, a team of investigators performed a raid on Sarah’s brothel. It was a collective effort of several NGO’s, two of which are involved with The Exodus Road, and several government and police agencies. It was a professional operation, spearheaded chiefly by our lead investigator, which took the course of three days and resulted in the discovery of 8 underage victims and the arrests of the brothel owners.
After weeks of waiting, Sarah’s note she scribbled to the investigator on a piece of currency which said, “Please rescue me,” finally got answered.
And while it did require more time, money, and manpower than first assumed, the team pursued Sarah’s freedom with a tenacity that inspires us every time we read the investigative report. They remind us that there are brave men and women on the front lines who live the belief that child slavery is unacceptable.
And Sarah’s life will never be the same because of it.
Working predominately in Southeast Asia, the purpose of The Exodus Road is to empower rescues. Working with a coalition of both Western and national investigators and support staff, The Exodus Road funds the undercover investigations necessary for the local authorities to conduct raids and prosecutions in cases of the underage sex industry and human trafficking.