7 teenage girls have been rescued in Latin America. 4 traffickers have been arrested.
This is a firsthand account from Arturo*, an operative of The Exodus Road in Latin America, who was personally a part of this operation.
An ordinary operation includes police cars, arrests, and social workers. This story is not ordinary. More than a tactical operation, it was a relationship, a chance to take a teenage girl out of her pimp’s hands and put her back in school.
Our investigators usually look for victims in brothels, nightclubs, hotels, spas, and other similar places. The victims are usually controlled and kept in one location. On a routine exploration, our operatives discovered a new trend when they met a pimp offering young girls to visitors. The police knew about him, but they hadn’t been able to arrest him because the victims weren’t held in a common sex service environment. Instead, they were living at home with their parents.
The pimp was a handsome man who sought out vulnerable teen girls in need. He was also an ex-police officer, so he knew how to avoid police investigations. He would offer to cover the girls’ needs and meet their parents. He became like a savior to them.
After gaining their trust, he would convince the girls to have sex and take drugs by offering expensive gifts. Then the pimp would invite the girls to parties where they were sold to male guests. To maintain control of the girls, he recorded videos and threatened to publish them on social media if they let anybody know.
The girls — frightened, alone, and confused — kept silent. Their own families did not know what was happening to them.
But our operatives gained the pimp’s trust. They were able to attend one of the parties, and that’s where they met Ruth.*
Ruth was 16, and she had been sold by this man for 3 years — since she was just 13 years old. The day our operatives met her, Ruth thought it would be just another dark night. She had lost hope and her self-esteem.
But instead of abuse, Ruth found kindness. When our investigators drew her out in conversation, she opened her heart and told them that she didn’t want to stay there. So the investigators paid a fine and took her home.
Ruth contacted the team in the morning and said there was something she wanted to tell them. They took Ruth and two more girls, victims of the same pimp, to lunch. After lunch, they spent the afternoon on a mall playground. Ruth and her friends said it was the best day of their lives.
At the end of the day, while eating ice cream, Ruth told the team her story. Her dad had passed away. Her mother, who is disabled, couldn’t pay for her school anymore. Her “savior” had offered to help, and she had gotten trapped. Her friends, 15-year-old Luisa* and 17-year-old Mary,* shared similar stories.
Ruth simply wanted to go to school. She hates drugs and alcohol, and most of all, she hates being sexually exploited and abused. She wanted to dream; she wanted an adolescence; she wanted a second chance.
The team was extremely moved by her story. While they collected evidence for law enforcement, they also got everything Ruth needed to go back to school. They met her mother and bought them groceries.
Ruth felt so encouraged and thankful that she courageously talked to the police. Because of her testimony and the evidence our operatives gathered, the pimp, as well as 3 other perpetrators, were arrested and are now in jail.
While the traffickers were being arrested, our social workers and law enforcement experts in child protection went to the homes of the girls who were being exploited. They ensured the parents weren’t involved in the exploitation, offering these girls protection and emotional support. They will continue to check on the girls through their recovery process.
Now Ruth is free from exploitation and back in school. She works with her mother on a small food truck. Luisa, Mary, and 4 other girls are also free from the abuse of these traffickers.
This wasn’t a breaking news rescue. It wasn’t a loud police operation.
It was a story of empathy. A story of trust and kindness that brought freedom. A story of justice in the hands of the ordinary.
*Names changed for safety and privacy.