“Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation,” Martin Luther King, Jr. told a stirring crowd August 28, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial, in Washington, D. C.
“This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity,” he continued.
But even Reverend King recognized in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech that passing a law does not free men make. What became the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified December 6, 1865, one hundred and fifty years ago this month, abolishing slavery once and for all in the United States of America.
Yet, today that fight for freedom continues, not only on the red hills of Georgia or the plains of Tennessee, but in the hidden corridors of India and on the back streets of Thailand and Colombia. Enslavement now wears multiple faces with varied descriptions and runs rampant not only in the United States but throughout the world.
Even with all our enlightenment, slavery is now more prominent than at any other time in the history of the world with an estimated 30 million enslaved. They are sex slaves, labor slaves, and child brides. Over two million children are being masqueraded as child prostitutes today. They are in all parts of the world and speak a variety of languages. You may see them and not even know it. When will it stop?
Creating laws to end slavery is only the beginning. Freedom for all will only become reality when it is firmly rooted in the hearts and minds of just men and women everywhere. As a result, freedom continues to be an elusive dream for many. Today, it is estimated that two million children are being trafficked as sex slaves; one hundred thousand of those are in the United States.
At Operation Underground Railroad, we are committed to “…proclaim liberty to the captives…,” Isaiah 61:1. We do this in a number of ways including identifying sex slaves and literally going in and rescuing them from their captors and ensuring the abusers are arrested by always working with law enforcement. And we risk our lives every time we do it, but we do it because we know it is the right thing to do.
We also work with other Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in countries around the world to not only rescue the enslaved, but help them with recovery and education so they can stand on their own and avoid the victimization that they were put into in the first place.
We say to you, “Join us!” Join the fight and be the voice for so many children who have been silenced. Together we can eliminate this scourge on the earth. There are a number of things you can do. Go to our web site at OURrescue.org for ideas on ways to help. Start your own fundraising campaign, buy products from the O.U.R. store, educate others, or volunteer your time and talents.
We share Dr. King’s dream to be able to “…join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last!” With your help we are making that dream a reality for all.
It’s been several weeks of dangerous undercover work for O.U.R. operatives in brothels, bars, and on the streets of India, but the work is beginning to pay off. Three sex traffickers have been arrested and the undercover investigation is continuing.
The following are excerpts from an interview with one of the undercover operatives working in South Asia:
INTERVIEWER: How do you find child sex slaves in India and how do you rescue them?
INVESTIGATOR: An investigator, who I’ve worked with before in South Asia, and I, joined local NGOs or Non-Governmental Organizations in India: Indian Rescue Missions and ARZ (Anyay Rohit Zindagi)*. The first one works primarily in Goa and then the other one works in Mumbai.
We spent the first few days investigating brothels. There’s a particular red light district called Kamathipura. It’s one of oldest red light districts in history and definitely in Asia, so it’s been operating for thousands of years. It’s just been culturally accepted.
We went to at least six brothels in Mumbai trying to identify victims. We didn’t identify any minors at that time, and in India 18 and under is considered a minor. In Southeast Asia, it’s 16 and under, in Cambodia it’s 14 and under, so it varies from country to country.
We also investigated dance bars. Dance bars are different from strip clubs in the United States. These girls are in full clothing, sometimes western clothing or traditional Hindi clothing with saris. There’s a band playing and they stand in front of the stage holding a lot of money in their hands, which is the tips they’ve received. If there’s a particular girl someone is interested in, they talk to what’s considered the controllers or handlers.
We did identify minors there. The intel that we gathered, the images that we gathered, the footage that we gathered, we turned that over to the local police. We have a great working relationship with them and they are planning to act this week as far as raiding and shutting down those dance clubs.
During this investigation we did identify about 30 percent of the girls as minors. Each club is different. They range from five to 25 girls per club and on average two to seven of the girls were under the age of 18.
INTERVIEWER: How do these girls end up there?
INVESTIGATOR: Some of these girls end up there by choice. It’s hard for us to think about “do I sell my body just to have something to eat? Do I sell my body to feed my child that night?” So a lot of girls end up there because of their social-economic situation. A lot of them just don’t know any better.
They may be in a rural village and they are approached by a trafficker or a handler saying, “Hey, you come to the big city and you can be a singer or you can be in a Bollywood movie. You’re beautiful.”
They do it because they want to earn money to be able to send it back home, or a lot of these girls just want to go to school. I can’t remember how many times I’ve heard from these girls that they just want to go to school, not necessarily college or university. They just want to go to high school and this is a way for them to pay for it. I think all too often that’s the majority of the cases.
So they see this as an opportunity to get paid and go to school and eventually get out of India and go to the United States or to Europe. So, they are typically coerced. They’re promised a lot of things, a lot of false promises.
And once they’re in there they become indebted to the trafficker or the handler and they owe them a certain percentage of what they make. And it’s never enough for them to be released. So they are always under restrictive movement. They are always under control.
Regardless, you know, they keep promising the girls that ‘if you make enough money, if you save enough money, or you keep enough of your cut, then you’ll be able to go to school or you’ll be able to get out of debt bondage.’ But, they never let them go. Eventually, these girls become so seasoned that it just becomes a choice and a career for the rest of their life.
INTERVIEWER: Tell me about the girls that are brought to the temple.
INVESTIGATOR: In a part of central India they have a ritual where the girls are brought by family members to the temple, right before they hit puberty and begin their first period, to be washed with holy water by a priest.
The family can now say, ‘My daughter has been blessed. She has been washed in the holy water.’ This now makes her holy and sacred so she can then go back to the village and men are allowed to have sex with her. This is considered a blessing on the man by the Hindi gods and the family sees this as revenue, as a way of making money.
As an undercover operative spending time there and witnessing some of these girls, these victims, is difficult. Some of them have been recovered. We saw a project where they are now learning how to sew, which makes them valuable to the community because they can make clothing and sell it, so it gives them a value. They’re able to bring something to the community other than being just a temple prostitute or “devadasis”.
INTERVIEWER: Is this considered a religious ceremony?
INVESTIGATOR: It is considered a Hindu religious ceremony.
INTERVIEWER:So it’s not considered wrong?
INVESTIGATOR: No, it’s not. It’s just culturally accepted. With that said though, this comes from typically a rural part of inner India where a lot of the older practices and ideas are still in place. But, when you get to the larger cities, there’s a majority of India, even in recent years, where women are receiving rights, for instance, the right to vote. There’s been a big change, a big trend in India wanting to change from some of their older ways and adopting some more traditional western ways, especially in regards to human rights when it comes to women and children.
INTERVIEWER: What can O.U.R. do to help these families?
INVESTIGATOR: I think one way is through education. How O.U.R. is involved with our local NGO partner in India is a good way. There are three pillars of anti-human trafficking: Prevention, Intervention, which typically O.U.R. does, and then Aftercare and O.U.R. is a part of that too. We do all three of those but primarily intervention and then making sure the girls are rehabilitated after the rescue. The rescue really begins after they’ve been taken out of that situation.
So O.U.R. can help by partnering with NGOs and possibly funding education for these girls. It’s a small amount of funding for some of these projects. And the reason why I mention this sewing project is that when I visited this project and saw the sewing room and talked to some of the girls there, some of the girls aren’t victims.
These are young girls in the community that, if they weren’t learning this skillset and learning how to sew and make clothing, more than likely, they would be used for a temple prostitute. But this puts a value on them to the community, where they’re bringing in revenue, where the family doesn’t feel, “well, financially, we don’t have enough money.”
There’s a balance there between their social-economical situation and their faith. I think the family, if they have a choice, would not sell their daughter to bring in that revenue. Despite their faith, I think they wouldn’t do that. This sewing project is teaching the girls that they have potential, so it’s the prevention aspect. And then it also gives the opportunity to the women who have been recovered and are previous victims of the situation to find value in themselves.
When we look at a rehabilitation process, we have a thought process that we’re used to, our western thought process, and the luxuries we have around us, however, something such as a hundred dollar sewing machine and being able to make a small amount of money creates tremendous value to a girl or woman in India.
Some of the girls, who hopefully will never become victims, know how important a skillset is because, for them, especially in the Hindi religion, there’s not a lot of value on a woman. She doesn’t serve a lot of purpose in the community. Usually, it’s just for sexual purposes or for work or for kids, so when you give them an opportunity or you teach them a skillset like sewing, it gives them a purpose of self-worth and then worth within the community because it’s actually generating revenue.
A lot of times when we see human trafficking or sex trafficking or even labor trafficking, we think of these big monstrous cities like New Delhi or Mumbai where it is really prevalent, but the problem starts, a lot of times, in these rural areas where it’s extremely poor. It’s poor in the big cities, but it’s extremely poor in the rural areas. Again, the education is less than it is in some of the bigger cities so the people have a tendency to be a lot more vulnerable to being coerced or manipulated or even intimidated into the circumstances of being trafficked.
Note: This is an on-going investigation and details concerning arrests and rescued girls will be discussed when it is safe to do so.
Edited by: Cheryl L. Karr
*ARZ = Anyay Rohit Zindagi http://www.arzindia.org/ (an Indian NGO, non-profit)
If you would like to support future rescue operations in India, please consider donating through our website www.OURrescue.org. If you have specific information on child trafficking in India, please contact us at info@OURrescue.org.
Operation Underground Railroad is running its “Freedom for All” campaign through the month of July to increase awareness of those who are enslaved around the world.
“July is a time that we reflect on independence and freedom; it is a time that we remember the high price our forefathers paid for our liberty. The #Freedom4All campaign was born to remind us that, although we enjoy unparalleled freedom, over two million children in the world are trapped in sexual slavery. O.U.R’s primary purpose is to rescue and rehabilitate these innocent children,” says O.U.R. Founder and CEO Tim Ballard.
“Slavery does exist today and its tentacles reach further and deeper than most of us realize, with its victims barely surviving in unthinkable darkness. The #Freedom4All campaign is a movement that will shine a light into this darkness and provide a way for each of us to eradicate this evil.”
To participate in the #Freedom4All campaign, use social media and be pro-active to help us get the word out by following these steps:
2. Wear the Message of Freedom: Purchase a Freedom4All T-shirt (all proceeds donated to fund rescue operations).
3. Share the Message of Freedom: Share O.U.R.’s message of freedom – slavery is real and we can end it – on Twitter and Facebook and any other social network medium (instructions on O.U.R.’s website). Sign up for O.U.R.’s Thunderclap campaign at bit.lyfreedomour.
4. Flood the Message of Freedom: Turn your social media profiles “Blue for Freedom” by using a series of images provided by O.U.R.
5. Listen to the Message of Freedom: Visit Tim Ballard’s message on our YouTube Channel.
6. Donate for Freedom: Use this opportunity to donate to O.U.R. – every dollar donated means a child may be rescued. O.U.R. invited all to participate in the #Freedom4All campaign; to raise awareness of child sexual slavery’s evil and spread the message of hope by positive action and involvement.
ABOUT OPERATION UNDERGROUND RAILROAD: Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.) is a non-proﬁt organization that rescues kidnapped children from slavery. O.U.R. rescue teams (called “Jump Teams”) are comprised of highly skilled ex-Navy Seal’s, CIA and other operatives. These teams work in conjunction with and in full cooperation with local police forces and foreign governments to liberate children around the world.
The original Underground Railroad was a network that existed in nineteenth century America to liberate African slaves. Today, slavery has a new face: the face of an innocent child. Slavery’s victims today include nearly two million precious children throughout the world. They are slaves, exploited for sex.
The symbol of the Underground Railroad shines through the darkness that surrounds these poor children and offers hope and freedom to children that are abused daily. Thousands of these children are imported every year from third world countries to developed countries, such as the United States and Canada. Operation Underground Railroad can rescue and save them from the horrors of slavery. This is its mission!
O.U.R. rescues these children and delivers them to safe havens that offer freedom and rehabilitation. And in the process, O.U.R. expert rescue teams break the avaricious organizations that exploit these children and deliver the perpetrators to justice and jail. Using cutting-edge computer technology and human intelligence, O.U.R. rescue teams go into the darkest corners of the world to help local law enforcement liberate enslaved children and dismantle the criminal networks. www.ourrescue.org #freedom4all
“When it comes to sex crimes, this is an international problem,” Operation Underground Railroad Founder and CEO Tim Ballard told the House Subcommittee on Foreign Affairs in Washington, D.C. last week. Ballard is promoting a bill which will assist private and public organizations in sharing information on sex offenders internationally.
Two to three times more children could be rescued from sex predators if congress will pass HR515 according to Ballard. “The fact that we are talking about child victims should cause us, on a moral level, to find ways to remove barriers that prevent international engagement.”
Currently, there are over two million children involved internationally in the sex trade according to government sources. Some victims are tricked into it while others, are sold into it, often by a family member. And unfortunately, many of the perpetrators are from the United States.
“I can testify that I know these facts are true,” Ballard, told the committee, “because I’ve been working in this black market for more than 10 years. And the sad commentary on our country, the reason our cover story has worked so well and has been so easily bought by perpetrators is due to the fact that we are Americans. These guys, these perpetrators are used to catering to Americans. They are used to selling children to Americans.”
Members of O.U.R. often pose as sex tourists in order to locate and rescue children from sex slavery and have saved over 300 victims to date. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes has participated in a few of the rescues with O.U.R. and also testified at the congressional hearing. He said there were three things that “extremely impressed” him with O.U.R.
One, the emphasis that O.U.R. puts into providing resources, counseling, training, and stability to victims that they liberate from trafficking and the involvement of groups and people like Elizabeth Smart, in their organization.
Two, I was impressed by the focus on training of local law enforcement partners in the various countries where they do operations, to give or enhance the skills, techniques and tools they need, to replicate the operations again and again. And some of the most gratifying moments have been hearing from our law enforcement partners after we’ve done missions in their countries, telling us they’ve had success on their own using the techniques they’ve learned from O.U.R.
Number three, I told Mr. Ballard the emphasis on letting local partners take credit for the wins and building up credibility with their own people in government were quite impressive. And over the past year, dealing with them, having participated as a partner and member of O.U.R., I would now add two more quick points.
The talent and dedication of Mr. Ballard’s team, former successful CIA, HSI, Navy Seals, Special Forces and law enforcement personnel, and lastly, the effectiveness of the stings they set up.
Reyes joined O.U.R for an undercover sting in Cartagena, Colombia in October 2014 where young girls between the ages of 10 and 16 were drugged to take the edge off of what they were about to experience. “The fear and helplessness in their eyes is something I will never forget,” said Reyes. “All I can say is, thank goodness we were the ones there that day instead of real sex tourists, predators.” Over 120 girls and boys were rescued in that sting in three simultaneous operations lead by O.U.R.
Additional Congressional testimony was given by Rosi Orozco, a former member of the Mexican congress who was one of O.U.R.’s earliest supporters, and Karla Jacinto, a victim of trafficking between the ages of 12 and 17. Both bore powerful testimonies of the need to join together to fight this global social scourge.
With the passage of HR515, also known as the international version of Megan’s Law, NGOs such as O.U.R. will be able to access information that will increase awareness of sex traffickers, their locations, habits, and activities, which will, in turn, result in more arrests.
The federal version of Megan’s Law, known as the Sexual Offender Act of 1994, requires sex offenders to register with law enforcement notifying them of their address and employment. It was passed as a result of a sex offender that had been released from prison and lived across the street from Megan. He enticed her to his home where he raped and killed her.
HR515 is an international version of Megan’s Law and passed the House in January. It is now before the senate. U.S. Representative Christopher Smith (NJ), who chaired the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations last week, praised O.U.R. Founder and CEO Tim Ballard for his leadership in rescuing victims of sex trafficking. This Subcommittee is part of the broader House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Not long ago I was holding a three year-old slave child in my arms, carrying him to freedom. I was working as an undercover operative with the Haitian government, posing as a child trafficker. In the weeks leading up to the rescue, my team and I had managed to infiltrate a criminal organization in Port Au Prince that sold children from their dark lair for $15,000 a piece. They originally set the price at $10,000, but like the Thenardiers selling Cossette, they kept demanding more.
I had just bought this child from the organization. Having worked for years as a Special Agent and Undercover Operative for the U.S. government, I knew very well that this child and his 27 companions were in a dire situation. They all lived in a trafficker’s dream—children for sale, ready to be moved and exploited throughout the world. I knew the trafficker’s dream was the children’s nightmare.
After our successful sting operation, all 28 kids were rescued and placed into safety; and two traffickers (including a U.S. citizen) were arrested. This is the face of modern-day slavery and it is every bit as outrageous as the slavery of Abraham Lincoln’s day in the 1800s.
Lincoln may not have started out to abolish slavery but he became a convert to the idea as he eventually grasped the magnitude of this egregious human rights violation. He was humbled and repentant and ready to take a stand.
Lincoln declared to the nation:
“It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness…let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teaching, that the united cry of the nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering country….” (Lincoln, as quoted in Richardson ed., “A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America (March 30, 1863),” 164-165)
The Civil War ended in 1865 with a shattered nation and the abolishment of slavery. Lincoln paid the ultimate price for his conviction, as have many before and after him. And although slavery may now be illegal, it has not been eliminated.
I invite you to join me in continuing the fight to free the enslaved. You may not be able to go in and free a child, but you can support those who do. As Edmund Burke so famously stated, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”