Posted in Operations
June 8th, 2014

Children Rescued from Prostitute Ring in Colombia

Youngest Prostitute is Eleven Years Old

O.U.R. Founder and CEO Tim Ballard recently returned from a rescue mission in Colombia in which he and the Jump Team rescued 26 children and five adults used in a prostitute ring.  The adult prostitutes were there mainly to keep the children in line. In the following interview Tim Ballard talks about the mission and how it all went down.

Q: What is your most memorable moment with the Colombia rescue?

A: There was this 11-year-old girl.  She was really afraid.  There were several of them but there was this one little girl, and she was just shattered. A lot of them were, but, she was wearing a T-shirt and basketball shorts, and she looked like she’d just walked out of junior high school. She was being controlled by one of the adult prostitutes. 

I was down with the traffickers, and she was down with the other kids.  There were 26 all together – minors. There were a couple of them that were, like, 11 and 12.  She just really stood out, and when they (traffickers) got them back into the party, she just hid into a corner in the back yard. She kind of became the face of the rescue. 

We didn’t get any contact with them after the takedown. I’m a bad guy (undercover) anyway.  If she ever saw me, she’d know me as a bad guy.  We had Lori Holden; she’s an actress on the TV show The Walking Dead. She came along with us.  She’s an ambassador for us and she was back with the girls. They came in, and her job, along with several others, was to keep them calm, especially when the takedown was happening. She identified these younger girls, and she actually connected with them, and she was hugging them and crying with them and telling them they’re free.  She actually got that experience, which was really cool. 

Q: How does an 11-year-old end up in this situation?

A: They’re just coerced by the traffickers.  They’ll go to them, either directly to them; or it’s some connection. Usually, the trafficker has an adult prostitute friend, and this will be the adult prostitute’s favor or some connection, like she’s in an impoverished family and sometimes the parents know something and sometimes they don’t know anything. But sometimes they know something, and they’re getting in on the take too, which is incredible to believe. 

Unfortunately, on this case-and I don’t blame them-they’re (law enforcement) really-tight lipped about sharing anything with us. We’re not in the “need-to-know” with these cases, what happened to each one of these girls, so they’re not going to tell us. That’s probably wise. So we don’t know.  But sometimes we do. 

We have operations where, because of the nature of where we’re working, we get to know indepth.  On this one we didn’t get to know the details. But that’s how they end up.  It’s poverty. They’re deceived. The families are deceived. They’re told one thing.  Sometimes the kids are taken to another place.  The traffickers were telling us, and we can’t get a confirmation on this, (maybe someday when it all comes out), but the trafficker told us one of the kids was from Mexico and had been kidnapped and smuggled from Mexico. So that happens a lot, too.  

They’ll go to a family and deceive the family, some poor Mexican family.  “We’re going to take your child to the capital.  To the city. She’s going to be a nanny for us, and she’s going to get paid, and she’s going to go to school, and she’ll call you every week.” The parents get $500, or something, and they take the girl, and instead of Mexico, they go to Columbia. And they never hear from her again. That happens a lot.  The traffickers were telling us one of the kids was that (kind of instance).  So the Colombian officials confirmed that, so they’re keeping all the information about the kids really tight-lipped.

Q: Isn’t part of what you do is rehabilitation?

A: Yes

Q: How can you do that if you don’t know their story?

A: Well, every case is different. In Haiti, we have access to the kids. In Colombia, we partnered with an organization called Renacer *. They are a non-profit organization that’s licensed with the country of Colombia and they actually take care of the kids.  They have beds there.  They have psychologists and educators and they’re there for as long as they need to be.

Q: So you just turn over the children to them?

A: Yes, (to) the Colombian officials after the arrest goes down.  And with good reason.  We never have possession of the kids. The Colombians always keep control, as they should. And they’ve already partnered with Renacer*, so they take the kids there. In other places, like Haiti, where there’s not an established relationship, we’ve found a rehab center, an orphanage, ahead of time, a couple of them.  So before our operation, we talked to the Haitian officials and said, “This is where the kids need to go. These are good licensed orphanages,”  and so they respected that and made sure those kids ended up there.

*Renacer is a foundation that cares for children and adolescents who are victims of commercial sexual exploitation.

For more information on Operation Underground Railroad, please visit us at https://www.ourrescue.org/

Interview by Cheryl L. Karr


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