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Tony Robbins: When a Dream Bucket List Leads to Change

Tony Robbins: When a Dream Bucket List Leads to Change

We are so incredibly grateful for Tony Robbins, his outstanding team and his generous supporters. They have been able to help us save dozens of children from slavery so far.

Watch the video below to find out how Tony came to find out about Operation Underground Railroad & you will be amazed what happens next.

The next time you think, “I’m just 1 person, I can’t possibly make a difference.” Think again!

A Voice Against Sex Trafficking

A Voice Against Sex Trafficking

By Monique Derr

A grain of sand on a beach. A drop of water in the ocean. What can one person possibly do to fight something as huge and catastrophic as sex trafficking?

Too often we feel like there is nothing we can do to make a difference. We see travesties in the world, and it breaks our hearts; weighs us down. We know it is wrong. We want it to stop, but assume that we alone cannot do enough, and so for the sake of self preservation, we go on with our lives. This feeling of insignificance is not accurate. It is a lie. We are so much more powerful than we realize. Every one of us has something to offer, every one of us is unique and valuable and needed. Every one of us can make a difference.

Recording artist Nicole Sheahan knows this well. For her, music has become her platform for creating awareness and educating the public on the realities of slavery today. “When I heard about human trafficking, I thought there couldn’t be anything worse for someone to experience and be trapped in. It moved my heart,” said Sheahan. “I think about Jesus Christ and his ministry, when he was here. I feel like if he were still here on the earth, he would be fighting this. Every person is precious, every person matters. I can’t imagine a more important cause,” she stated.

With two albums released, and having recorded in Utah as well as in Nashville, Sheahan is a light in the music industry. And not just because of her song ratings or album sales, but because of the cause she stands for.
After researching ways to get involved with the fight against sex trafficking, and coming across an article about O.U.R., Sheahan says she found her place to use her voice. “I saw the prescreening of the ‘Abolitionists’ and was in love with the mission…I am amazed by Tim Ballard. He is my hero. He is doing so much good. My heart felt connected to what he was doing.”

Sheahan supports the mission through her music in creative and meaningful ways. Fifty percent of all her proceeds from album sales go directly to O.U.R. She puts on benefit concerts to raise awareness and financial support for the cause. And something quite unique, is a message she includes at the end of some of her music videos about sex trafficking and how we can fight it. Sheahan uses “The power of the song,” as she eloquently put it, to bring about awareness and social change. She tells stories through her music; in a genre she has self titled, “The genre of life. I sing about whatever I am learning, whatever Heavenly Father is teaching me,” and through her music, she is teaching us.

We don’t all have a talent for singing, songwriting, and performing. But Sheahan does not want anyone to think that is the only avenue for joining this great mission to fight sex trafficking. “Every one of us has a skill or talents that can be used to light a fire and help fight against human trafficking. Everyone has a reach and can make an impact. Step out, do whatever you can do. All of those little actions add up to be huge and can help rescue children.”
Referencing a person who inspired her, Hugh Neil, Sheahan exclaimed, “Take your talents and where you’re at and use that to find a way to raise awareness.”

She called this, “Lifting where you stand.” You do not need to wait until you can move a mountain. Lift from where you are at now, because only then can we actually move a mountain, together.

Sheahan had some great suggestions. “Students can spread the word in class and talk about it every chance they get. You can become an abolitionist and donate. Get creative with a group of friends; put on a 5k race, a benefit concert, think outside the box. Realize that everything you do can make a difference, even if it seems small.”
After sharing ideas on how we can all be a part of this mission, she paused, and thoughtfully said, “It all comes back to rescuing the children. These precious children need us.”

Nicole Sheahan’s music is fun, inspiring, and beautiful. Check out her website for information on buying her album or attending her next benefit concert for O.U.R.

www.nicolesheahan.com
www.facebook.com/NicoleSheahanMusic

Operation Fortuna: A Series Of (Un)fortunate Events

Operation Fortuna: A Series Of (Un)fortunate Events

 

 

The Caribbean –

5 Minors Rescued – 1 Trafficker Arrested

 

It was obvious right from the very beginning that the suspected trafficker was greedy, ambitious, and inexperienced. And it was ultimately, what led to her downfall and the rescue of five girls between the ages of 14 and 17.

Operation Underground Railroad had initially come to this lush Caribbean country at the invitation of the American Embassy and the country’s government authorities. They were establishing a working relationship with the national police in order to conduct undercover operations and rescue children from sex trafficking as O.U.R. does wherever it goes.

An advance team from O.U.R. had come to scout out the resort areas of the island and gather intelligence. Three suspected traffickers were identified, each with his own cadre of young girls to offer the western tourists. “These traffickers readily give up personal information: real names, cell phone numbers, pictures of the girls, and where they live, because they don’t suspect anything. We’re not locals,” the team leader said.

Three traffickers translates into three different trafficking networks, each with his own group of business associates, girls and clients. Of greatest concern was that some of these girls were not only for sale for the evening; they were “for sale” for sale as in, “You give me $10,000 and you take the girl forever.”

Plan Disrupted

This was more than enough to have the government support a rescue operation. A date was set with the national police and O.U.R. started mobilizing the rescue team. Unfortunately, the O.U.R. team returned to the country only to discover that not all of the preliminary work had been completed. “They had not done the lead work ahead of time. They had not gotten the court orders, they hadn’t gotten the judicial orders, they hadn’t gotten judge approval for us to actually move forward,” said the team leader.

Operation Underground Railroad is not a vigilante group and will not move forward without everything in place. “We do everything we can to lay the groundwork ahead of time and to prepare, but when we get down there we’re in their hands, ultimately, we’re in the hands of the foreign government,” the team leader explained. In this case, the foreign government told them to return in two weeks and they would have all the paperwork completed and be ready for the rescue and arrests.

New Plans

It was Friday. O.U.R. had been expecting more team members to arrive the next day to help with the rescue. Now everything had changed and the rescue team was put on hold. Stuck with no way to leave the island until Sunday, the team leader asked the host government, “Can we at least meet with the traffickers to talk about maybe giving them some money, seeing the pictures, seeing the actual girls, and can we introduce one of your undercover operatives as our taxi driver or as our middleman, something where when we leave, the traffickers will trust that this trusted local is with us?” That way the traffickers can continue to deal directly with the local, thinking he is just some fixer/middleman/gofer, when really he’s a federal police officer. The national police gave the green light and the plan was set for the next day.

A Fourth Suspected Trafficker

Then plans took a sharp turn – again. A fourth suspected trafficker, a female, reached out to one of O.U.R.’s undercover operatives. “Because of human nature and greed and rumors, the word started spreading around this town on this Caribbean island that there were Americans looking for a good time,” said the team leader. The woman said she could provide five young girls – one of them a virgin.

O.U.R. took this information to the government, hoping to add her to the other three suspected traffickers that they anticipated arresting in two weeks. Unfortunately, with the limited resources of the government they told them, “We aren’t able to add her now. We think we’re at a maximum with the number of kids that we are planning on saving from the three networks. We think that’s going to be the limit of what we can take.”

There is nothing more disheartening than knowing kids are being trafficked and not being able to do anything about it. The national police did, however, agree to let O.U.R.’s undercover team set up a meeting with her and verify that she did, in fact, have children to sell.

The Meeting

It’s Saturday morning. The meeting is set for noon at a local restaurant. O.U.R. flies in the head negotiator. He wants to meet in a less public place but the potential trafficker assures him she will come by herself and then, “I’ll take you back to my house where we can meet with the kids.”

“Matt” plays the role of the rich guy from the U.S. “My security was there, my undercover operatives. They have been on the island working as the middlemen. So I fly in from the U.S. I have not been seen on the island. I am a new face. And I brought a couple guys as my bodyguards.”

 

Making The Deal
The Meeting

“So we show up to the restaurant and our undercover operatives go in to find the woman. Meanwhile, I stay in the car with my bodyguards. Well, then my undercover operative comes back five minutes later and says, ‘the suspected trafficker is in the restaurant and she brought the girls with her.’” At this point a decision needs to be made. Leave and avoid a public scene or go meet with her and see where it leads. Matt chooses the latter.

“We go in and sure enough, there are very young girls seated around a table, five of them – very scared girls. I think, ‘this is the real deal here, this is true.’ So we sit down and we immediately buy the girls some lemonade, some orange juice, some water and tell them to open up the menu and they can have whatever they want. “

“The woman begins to explain to us where she had gotten these girls. She said she was from a poor, poor town outside of this tourist area about 15-20 miles away, very uneducated. She tricked the parents of these five girls saying that she was just going to take them into town to buy some food, look around, take them to a movie maybe.”

“She’s explaining this to us and then we start talking about the prices and she says, ‘Well, each of these girls is very young.’ She gave us the ages: 14, 15, 16, and 17. And she said that the youngest one, the 14-year-old, was a virgin, and she was more expensive. She would be $500. But, the other girls were not virgins but had only been in this, so to speak, for just a month or two, so they’re almost virgins and they were going to be about $300 each.”

It’s Complicated

Everything was going just as expected for an undercover sting. The only problem was the government had not given them permission to move forward. There is no police backup. There is no one to make an arrest. There is no one to take care of the girls. Matt had gone in looking for information and got a whole lot more than he’d bargained for. Now what?

Matt describes the scene. “I’m focused on her. My bodyguards are around talking to the girls. At one point I then take a half turn and just survey the environment, make sure everything is good and I notice that our presence is drawing a lot of attention. That it looks really, really bad. That you have essentially five, six big, white guys, Americans, talking with young women, young girls from this country, ethnically, local girls.”

“People were starting to whisper and look, including a couple who I see take out their cell phones and begin taking pictures. So I immediately said, ‘You know what—this isn’t good, we need to get out of here.’ So I whipped out a stack of local currency, put it on the table and said, ‘Ladies, eat whatever you want. Finish your drinks.” I told the waitress, “This covers the bill.” Then I took out some money and gave it to the trafficker so I could hook her greed, and then I said, ‘Thank you so much, we’ll be in touch.’ And we got out of there right away.”

Operation Underground Railroad trains its operatives to “always go with your gut sense.” In Matt’s case, it just didn’t feel right. He could sense that things were getting out of control and that they needed to get out of there right away and they did. It was the right decision.

They later learned from their connections with one of the other traffickers, who may have had ties with the local police, that within 10 minutes after they left, the local police came into the restaurant, arrested the woman and took the kids in for questioning. Since O.U.R. was working with the national police, the local police would not have known they were working undercover. Had they been arrested as well, they would have had to blow their cover in order to get out of jail.

As it played out, this incident strengthened their undercover relationship with the other potential traffickers. All the operatives maintained their cover as western sex tourists and they managed to have the suspected woman trafficker arrested and the five girls rescued. Actually, the arrest and rescue can be largely attributed to the concerned people in the restaurant who were brave enough to get involved and call the police.

If everything had gone according to plan, this never would have happened, because the national police had determined they would not arrest this trafficker due to limited resources.

However, things got very tense for the O.U.R. jump team. Following the arrest, the local police began looking for Matt and his bodyguards. “This was probably the most scared I’ve been on any of our operations thus far,” Matt said. “We monitored the situation and figured out we were safe staying at our hotel. We kept the federal police officer with us at all times, just in case anything happened.”

The Aftermath

As scheduled, Sunday morning O.U.R.’s jump team got on the plane headed for home. Following Saturday’s incident, Matt had arranged for O.U.R.’s aftercare partner to take care of the five girls that had been taken in for questioning. They were later returned to their parents who were, indeed, unaware that their children were being trafficked. Though traumatized, the girls, as well as their parents, are now a little wiser about the world and the evil that goes on in it and can take additional precautions to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

The woman was interrogated and taken to jail for a minimum of one year pending her trial. A number of witnesses at the restaurant heard what was going on and can testify so she won’t be doing this again.

As far as the three suspected trafficking networks are concerned that were identified earlier, they are being watched and will be taken down at a later date. No one will escape. And the children will be rescued and receive the care they need. It is only the beginning on the Caribbean island and Operation Underground Railroad will be right there to ensure more children are not exploited.

Written by: Cheryl L. Karr

 

Standing Shoulder To Shoulder In Cambodia

Standing Shoulder To Shoulder In Cambodia

By Caleb Larkin

In Asia alone, there are approximately 13.5 million human sex trafficking victims according to the U.S. State Department’s “Trafficking in Persons Report” (July 2015, http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/245365.pdf). The U.S. State Department also estimates about two-thirds of all human trafficking victims worldwide reside in Asia. One organization located at the heart of the issue in Cambodia is working to change those numbers and save lives.

“One girl is too many. One day is too long.” is a motto that Agape International Missions (AIM – http://agapewebsite.org/) lives by. Operation Underground Railroad established a recent partnership with AIM to provide resources, such as funding and training. In 2016 alone, AIM and O.U.R.’s joint efforts have already led to five rescue operations with 22 victims rescued and seven traffickers arrested.

AIM, which has been fighting sex trafficking since 2005, has rescued 539 victims and estimates it has had an immediate impact on over 10,000 people by rescuing, restoring and reintegrating victims, as well as, directly preventing sex slavery in Cambodia.

Ashleigh Allard has been the Development Coordinator at AIM since October 2015. “I don’t think I understood the gravity of the issue before working with AIM. It’s hard to calculate the number of children who are being trafficked for sex,” she said. “We’ve rescued girls as young as four years old. Hearing that would break anyone’s heart.”

“Operation Bullhorn” was the most recent mission where O.U.R. provided training and funding for AIM’s rescue. On March 29th, AIM’s rescue team freed six minors and three adults in a massage parlor front for human trafficking. Phnom Penh’s Department of Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Services arrested one trafficker in the raid on the parlor in the Kendall province in Cambodia. After a two-week undercover operation, AIM uncovered evidence that indicated the parlor manager was selling the children for sex. AIM has since relocated the six minors to a rehabilitation center to assist in the recovery process.

Allard explained the partnership with O.U.R. provides AIM with resources and support to enhance their ability to conduct recovery operations in Cambodia. “The rescue side of what AIM does aligns with O.U.R.’s mission,” she said. “O.U.R. helps provide the funds for raids.” This partnership is vital to O.U.R. in expediting our ability to connect with the existing law enforcement, aftercare, and community to enhance their role in eradicating sex trafficking locally.

The goal of O.U.R. is not to liberate every child ourselves, but to empower those agencies already doing great work. O.U.R. is able to enhance their tools and resources so they can have a larger impact and rescue more children while arresting and prosecuting traffickers.  O.U.R. consistently works with law enforcement so that the traffickers can be arrested through proper legal channels.

AIM’s goal focuses on four main areas: prevention, rescue, restoration, and reintegration. The organization has set up 12 different programs all focusing on some aspect of their goal. AIM owns and operates two transitional homes. These homes focus on victims 18 and older to find employment, receive counseling and “get back on a good trajectory for a successful life.”

In addition to their transitional homes, AIM owns three employment centers to help victims reintegrate and promote prevention of human trafficking through sustainable jobs. “One of these employment centers employs members of the community known for generational sex trafficking. Providing sustainable jobs breaks the cycle of exploitation,” Allard said. AIM also owns a retail store, Made, to help fund their efforts, an emergency family care center, an elementary school, and a gym called The Lord’s Gym, which focuses on kickboxing, allowing men to come in and train. Allard explained this key to help in prevention; to get men and others involved in a different cause, one that appeals to them such as kickboxing.

The Lord’s Gym is a preventative measure to help keep those who may be susceptible to evils of sex trafficking, on the right track and away from desperate and terrible mistakes. AIM feels it’s vital to get involved with the community before sex trafficking seeps into an individual’s life in order to complete eradicate sex trafficking.

“Brandon”, the director of regional operations with O.U.R., works closely with AIM’s operations in Cambodia. Brandon praised AIM’s efforts not only on their rescues, but also on the rehabilitation side. “AIM is very focused on the rehabilitation process,” he said. “They have a Muay Thai fight school. It’s a very good connection to the locals and helps in that rehabilitation process. AIM does a really good job of helping the victims go to the communities where they come from.”

Brandon, with a 20-year military background in special ops, as well as a Master’s degree in forensics and training by the Department of Defense in Trafficking in Persons, recognizes the strength a partnership with AIM gives to combating sex trafficking in Cambodia. “O.U.R. really wouldn’t have been able to work in Cambodia without this partnership,” he said.

“It would take years of work to establish ourselves in Cambodia, but when we partner with an organization, we can get the work done more quickly.” He also explained that the funds O.U.R. provides to AIM equates to a fraction of the cost to send jump team members there in just airfare and hotel cost. Brandon feels the partnership helps cut costs and allows O.U.R. to work with AIM instead of “reinventing the wheel.”

With the five joint operations in 2016 with AIM, Brandon has seen the benefits of working together towards a common goal. From first establishing the connection with AIM, to the most recent success with “Operation Bullhorn,” Brandon continues to play a vital role in providing training and funding to AIM’s effort to curb the human trafficking infection in Southeast Asia.

How can people get involved?

One way that people can get involved is being educated on the issue. There are organizations all over the world that are combating this issue. We all are capable of fighting the issue, using the talents, abilities and skills we already possess. Allard feels that people need to find a niche they are passionate about and follow it. “No matter where you live, there is likely an organization that is fighting human trafficking,” she said. “Just being aware of the issue, however, isn’t enough. We need people who are willing to act.”

Sex Sting Nabs Alleged Child Predators

Sex Sting Nabs Alleged Child Predators

Posted: Friday, May 6, 2016 in the Appealdemocrat.com

By Monica Vaughan/mvaughan@appealdemocrat.com

The child sex sting that led to a Yuba City planning commissioner’s arrest and subsequent resignation was part of a months-long, resource-intensive operation that resulted in criminal charges filed against five other men.

The most recent arrests were Tuesday night, when two men were hancuffed and questioned after they separately showed up at a meeting location where they presumably planned to have sex with 9- and 14-year-old girls.

“They’re predators in our community. They’re looking for kids to have sex with. Grown men are looking for children to have sex with,” said Jason Parker, chief investigator at the Sutter County Districk Attorney’s Office, which is coordinating the stings.

“When we set operations up, we know these guys are out there. Our goal is to go after them.”

While similar stings have been conducted across the country for years, this is the first sting in Yuba-Sutter to focus on child sex crimes. It was created and led by District Attorney Amanda Hopper, with support from the Sutter County Sheriff’s Office, the Yuba City Police Department and an outside organization, Operation Underground Railroad.

“Much of public safety is reacting to crime after it occurs. This operation was proactive,” Hopper told the AppealDemocrat in her first public statements about the operation.

Men who were arrested in the Sutter County stings are accused of reaching out to what they believe to be people offering children for sex. They allegedly clearly communicated what they would do with the minors, and showed up at a pre-arranged meeting, presumably with the intent to rape or molest children.

Defense attorneys representing men arrested in the stings, who were contacted by the Appeal-Democrat, said they were not yet familiar enough with the operation to provide a statement.

While the sting operation is seemingly bait to trap would-be perpetrators, Deputy District Attorney Clint Curry said it isn’t entrapment.

“A person is entrapped if a law enforcement officer engages in conduct that would cause a normally law-abiding person to commit that crime,” Curry said. “It’s an objective test. It doesn’t matter subjectively what’s in the suspect’s mind. It looks at behavior of the government agent.”

In this operation, detectives don’t offer people any motivation or reason to come to the meeting, he said. For example, he said, they don’t say “If you have sex with this child, she will be freed from slavery.”

Staff from Operation Underground Railroad assisted the agencies in implementing the plan.

“We’re a small rural community with limited resources,” Hopper said. “Operation Underground Railroad provided the support, experience and education and resources that we would not otherwise have.”

“One of the things the District Attorney’s Office agrees with Operation Underground Railroad in, is the need to educate people about how real child sexual exploitation is, and that it’s here and it’s everywhere.”

Each operation required hours of commitment from officers in three law enforcement agencies, Hopper said.

Details were not immediately available about how much staff time the operation cost.

“Every person there (Tuesday) had already worked full days and nights, and then more days. They put in the hours because they wanted to, because they had the opportunity to do good for Sutter County and to protect its children,” Hopper said.

Sheriff J. Paul Parker said it’s “absolutely” worth it for four or five of his deputies to work flex time or overtime to participate.

While most arrests of suspected sexual predators are made after a victim comes forward, the crimes the men caught in this sting operation allegedly committed have no real victims.

“It’s cheaper to intercept (these crimes) before they occur than after they occur,” he said.

After a sex crime has been committed against a child, “you have a victim, someone who has been traumatized for the rest of their life. How do you put a monetary value on that? You can’t.” This (operation) is a fiscally conservative approach,” Parker said. I think it’s been very successful.”

The suspects

The seven arrested men don’t seem to share any traits aside from their gender.

“We’ve seen 18-years-old, 50-years-old, economically well-to-do and we’ve seen dirt poor. We’ve seen different racial groups represented,” said Deputy District Attorney Clint Curry. “The only thing they have in common is they have a penis.”

Aside from Ivin Rhyne Jr., a former Yuba City planning commissioner who works with the California Energy Commission, most of the men caught in the sting live in the Sacramento Valley, but outside of Yuba-Sutter.

Jeffery M. Albo, 50 from Washington state, told investigators he was in the area as a contractor for three weeks at Beale Air Force Base.

Albo and Timothy L. Neher, 40, were arrested Tuesday evening, after they separately showed up at different times at the meeting location. Both are married with children, according to court documents.

Charges filed against them in Sutter County Superior Court on Thursday include felonies for attempting to perform sexual acts with a child and for arranging and appearing at a meeting with the intent to perform sex acts with a child. The most serious count is punishable by night years in prison.

Law enforcement officials involved in the operation say the men are predators, and the operation allows those men to be weeded out. The point was argued Thursday during Albo’s arraignment in front of Judge Christopher Chandler.

Although Albo has no criminal history, “This is the kind of crime that happens in secret,” Curry said. “It takes a lot of resources for law enforcement to ferret out.”

Albo’s attorney, Chris Carlos, argued Albo has never been arrested, and it’s “not appropriate to say he might have something out there. (He has) no criminal history.”

Assuming Albo did what officers say he did, “he made a mistake,” Carlos told the judge.

How it works

Each sting operation requires weeks of preparation. From start to finish, some 20 officers are involved.

“Every cop who works these goes, ‘This is what law enforcement is about. This is what I always wanted to do’,” Parker said.

On Tuesday evening, more than a dozen detectives gathered at a remote location to await the arrival of a suspect. Undercover officers posed to meet the suspect, as clearly armed officers on arrest teams waited nearby, prepared to cuff the suspect after a signal was communicated.

The suspect said he would meet at the spot when he left work.

In the days leading to the meeting, he and a few other men communicate with an undercover detective who claimed to have access to children available for sexual acts. There was no discussion of an exchange of money, only an interest in sex with children.

Audio and video surveillance was wired in the meeting location, which officers observed in a nearby room.

“Our hopes would be that we set up an operation and have no one respond,” Parker said.

That hasn’t been the case. At least on arrest has been made each of the five times detectives set up a location. On several occasions, men have expressed interest and arranged a meeting but never showed up.

“That’s not a bad thing,” Hopper said. “If they are legitimately hesitant about raping children, I want them to back out.”

The first target suspect on Tuesday did not back out. As soon as he arrive, he was arrested. During a search, officers found in his possession condoms and a bottle lubricant, Parker said.

He gave short answers.

Detectives off-site listened to the interview through a baby monitor.

After he was driven away to be booked into Sutter County Jail, detectives stayed on site and prepared for the next suspect’s arrival.

Arrested and charged

David Ignacio Chavarin, 33 of North Highlands.

Nicolas Davide Brown, 26, of Oroville.

Howard Montenegro, 44 of Sacramento.

Timothy Leroy Neher, 40 Chico.

Jeffery Michael Albo, 50, of Edmonds, Wash.

Professional baseball player observes sting

Former White Sox baseball player Adam LaRoche was present with Sutter County law enforcement officers to observe a child sex sting operation on Tuesday evening.

“After my experience overseas, I went on a quest to find out more about trafficking. That’s when I cam in contact with Operation Underground Railroad and was invited to Sutter County,” LaRoache said in statement provided to the Appeal-Democrat.

“Everyone who was present in Tuesday’s operation has an interest in protecting children,” said Sutter Coutny District Attorney Amanda Hopper, whose office coordinated the sting.

 

 

Operation Whale Watch

Operation Whale Watch

 

Latin America

Rescued 24     Arrested 5

 

Operation Whale Watch was a high-risk mission that Operation Underground Railroad’s ops leader felt was worth the risk. And he was right.

Twenty-four young women were rescued in this operation in Latin America. Only one was a minor. But that one minor is key in the potential punishment of the five traffickers. Because of that 16-year-old girl, they are now facing 15-30 years in prison. That’s a good day’s work.

The mission went pretty much as planned, but was considered high risk for several reasons. First, these traffickers were professionals. They knew what they were doing and they had been doing it for a long time. They were organized, connected, and well prepared to deal with whatever came along. “This was a sophisticated crime ring. The real deal,” said the ops leader. “These guys controlled the drugs and the women, creating heightened security risks.”

Second, they were armed. O.U.R.’s advance team had done their homework and knew these thugs usually packed heat. “The head guy was armed,” said the ops leader. “He carried a pistol on his left hip.” On the other hand, O.U.R.’s jump team members’ weapons are more imperceptible, in that they are highly trained on a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual level. All these assets are top notch and have served them well.

Third, some of the local police were less than trustworthy. “He had the local police in his control, ” said the ops leader. “We believe this guy had the local police on his payroll.” In order to vet out such situations, O.U.R. works closely with the U.S. Embassy and the federal government of whatever country they are operating in. “They always support us from afar,” said the ops leader. In this particular location, they knew some of the local police had been compromised.

This vital information came from O.U.R.’s advance team, which scouted out the area first to determine if there were traffickers and evaluate the potential danger. Their mission was paid for by specific donors who understood they were taking a risk also. If the intelligence didn’t pan out, the donor money would not result in a rescue. Fortunately, for both, it was a big score.

The green light was given. The operation was a go! The jump team assembled and developed a plan with the country’s federal law enforcement for a sting operation. Security is always a consideration, but in this particular operation O.U.R. brought in their top people due to the previously gathered intelligence. Nothing would be overlooked.

OP Whale Watch Beech Party

A house was rented and a birthday party planned as a cover for having a lot of girls gathering in one place. They didn’t want to alarm the neighbors or cause undo suspicion. Prior to the party, cameras were hidden around the room. This video would be useful later on for prosecution purposes as well as telling O.U.R.’s story.

The Latin American authorities of this country were involved every step of the way. Some of their law enforcement people were placed as waiters at the party, partly as a precaution for safety and partly to help when it came time to arrest the traffickers. Others were waiting from a distance and would move in once the signal was given.

Operation Underground Railroad’s ops leader was instructed by law enforcement officials that when he made the payment to the traffickers he was to be sure to count out the money in front of the girls so that they could later testify about the money. It didn’t quite turn out that way.

The girls started arriving at the party. It was clear to the ops team that many of them were reluctant to be there. In fact, they had overheard the traffickers telling the Madam, “You have to force the girls to be there.”

Negotiations never seem to go smoothly. When there is a lot of money involved and the stakes are high, emotions run high too. “They were trying to get the maximum price from us for the girls,” said the team leader. “They believed we were stupid tourists. They were trying to get $1000 U.S. per girl. That is the highest price we’ve been charged. Normally it’s between $200 to $300. One thousand dollars is the price of a virgin. And they lied to us saying many were under age.”

The mark of a true professional, however, is how they handle issues when things don’t go as planned. One group of girls was late to the party due to traffic. A decision had to be made. Do we go ahead and take down the traffickers with what we have or wait until all can be at the party? The O.U.R. ops leader determined it was too dangerous to wait. He moved forward with the transaction and pulled out the money, making sure the girls could see it.

The trafficker had a different idea. He did not want the girls to see the money. It was obvious to O.U.R. that he was planning on taking a larger cut than what he had promised the girls and he didn’t want them to know how much he was selling them for. A compromise was made and a bargain struck.

A drink sealed the deal and the signal was given. Forty-five seconds later the police stormed in. “It seemed like 45 minutes to me,” said the ops leader. “This guy did not have a weapon, but when the police broke in, he reached for a weapon he normally carries in his left hip, but he didn’t have it.” O.U.R. had warned him previously that he would be searched when he came to the party and he had chosen not to bring the pistol he normally carried. Unknown to him, O.U.R. had two of its own flank him on either side, just in case he had managed to sneak something in. He wasn’t going to get away with anything.

Everyone was arrested; even O.U.R.’s jump team. That’s how they manage to keep their cover. O.U.R. had also arranged for a couple of social workers to be there to help with the girls following the arrests. “They were sad, crying, and scared when the police came in,” said the ops leader, “but the social workers quickly helped them to feel safe.” The 16-year-old was taken to a shelter where O.U.R. will be able to follow up with her care and get her the help that she needs. She has since been returned to her family, but O.U.R. will continue to monitor her progress. So far, none of the adult women have chosen to take advantage of the shelter but that could change.

As for the group of latecomers, it is unknown what happened to them, but it is believed that there is still a ringleader out there somewhere who was very lucky this day. “The boss may still be out there and we’re looking for him,” said O.U.R.’s ops leader.” The government will be looking for him as well. His days are numbered.

Written by: Cheryl L. Karr

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emerging From The Shadows

Emerging From The Shadows

 

Anna’s Life in Aftercare

The following story was written by one of the Operation Underground Railroad team members who oversees aftercare for the children it rescues. This is an update on a young girl O.U.R. rescued in Africa a little less than a year ago. She was just fourteen when she was raped, then kidnapped and eventually made a child bride. She was pregnant when O.U.R. rescued her and had the perpetrator arrested. He is currently serving time in jail for the crime.

Anna
There is no “one-size-fits-all” after a child is rescued from sexual slavery. However, when a survivor is provided resources, counseling and people who truly invest in one’s life you often see the birth of hope. This is the story of Anna, a young teenager who has been through the worst horrors that this life can produce, and yet, she has hope beyond understanding.

I last visited with Anna in December 2015. I got to see the infancy of hope in her as she sang Amazing Grace and told me that she wanted to do something with music when she got older but wasn’t sure what.

I could not be happier to report my most recent observations and interactions with Anna. She is not just surviving but is thriving in many areas. While “thriving” is defined very differently based on the individual, one thing is consistent; hope.

This visit I did not even make it back into the home before I saw her with a bright smile coming out to the patio. She walked with a confidence and glow that only comes when one is experiencing restoration.

Through generous donated gifts, O.U.R. was able to give Anna clothes, books, nail polish, puzzles, jewelry, and clothes and toys for her baby boy. Her gratefulness about the new items would inspire anyone to sacrifice a meal to provide her with things she can call “her own.” The true gift she said was, “Thank you! I feel loved.”

She kept looking at the different nail polishes, so I asked her if she was good at painting nails. Without missing a beat and with a huge smile on her face, she said, “Yes, I am very good at painting nails.” So, of course, any woman who hears this offers her unpainted nails to be used as practice. Anna graciously offered to paint my nails, but it wasn’t just “painting nails.” There was a beautiful pride she had as if communicating her feeling and belief that she has so much to give back to the world.

Uganda Aftercare 2

For all those who stand with us, I hope you know the gifts you give out of love are received not just as “items” but are also received with the same spirit of love. While we are a world apart, we are yet united in love through the healing process of restored hope.

O.U.R. also had the privilege of spending quality time building a relationship with Anna, her baby, and one of the social workers at the center by taking them out to eat at the local mall. Anna stated that she had never been to the mall.

When we all arrived, Anna’s eyes were so big as she looked around at all the different stores. When asked where she wanted to eat, she confidently pointed toward the restaurant on the second floor. She is showing so much growth, finding strength to express her desire with confidence that her opinions matter.

Over lunch Anna shared that she was excited about going back to school in a few weeks. Anna also stated she had a better idea of what she wanted to do after she graduated from secondary (high school). She hopes to become a businesswoman, open a music studio and incorporate being a DJ within her business.

I observed that Anna has grown so much over the last couple of months through the care she is receiving at the aftercare center in Africa. She still has a long journey ahead of her and obstacles to overcome. However, what if no one had come to rescue her?

O.U.R. has been blessed to rescue so many children around the world from the horrors of sexual slavery; but if O.U.R. was created just for this one precious life, it has all been worth it. Anna has hope for her future and believes she will accomplish her dreams. She is truly an inspiration to all of us to invest in the lives of others.

To help “Anna” and others like her please go to OURrescue.org

 

Operation Sun Bear

Operation Sun Bear

3 Rescued – 2 Arrested

The owners of a Vietnamese café in Phnom Penh, Cambodia were suspected of serving up much more than food at their little roadside business last month. Unusual activity in the area caught the eye of Operation Underground Railroad’s NGO* partner Agape International Missions (AIM)

and an investigation began.

With O.U.R.’s support, AIM joined forces with the Municipal Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Police to investigate the odd circumstances involving the café and together concluded that it was operating as a front for a brothel. Further investigation showed that three girls were being held by the husband and wife team and sold for sex to approximately 15 to 20 buyers each day.

On February 17, 2016 enough evidence had been gathered, and O.U.R.’s partners, in conjunction with local law enforcement, raided the café. Three girls were rescued from the brothel and the owners were arrested.

At this time it is unclear where the three minors came from, although it is suspected that they may be from Vietnam. They are now in an aftercare facility where they are being helped to recover from their ordeal. Here, they will find their strength and be less vulnerable to traffickers in the future. In addition, they are learning new skills that will help them survive and thrive as they move forward in their lives.

An O.U.R. jump team member who works along side AIM says that it is not uncommon to see young girls being trafficked across the border in Cambodia. He says, “A lot of them come from Vietnam or from rural hill tribes on the Laos, Vietnam boarders of Cambodia. They are usually promised some type of legitimate work initially, but once they get to the capital, they are forced into the prostitution industry instead.” Those who have enslaved these young girls usually hold their passports and give them new identities, making it nearly impossible for them to escape.

The owners of the Vietnamese café in Phnom Penh have been charged with child sex trafficking and related offenses, and are currently in prison awaiting trial. O.U.R./AIM’s legal team is helping the three victims and will represent them throughout the legal process to ensure the traffickers pay for what they have done and prevent them from doing it to others.

“Operation Underground Railroad is very fortunate to have established this relationship with AIM,” says O.U.R. Founder and CEO Tim Ballard. “AIM has been working in Cambodia for many years and has a very good reputation.” Working in partnership with other NGOs is very cost effective since they already have a presence in the country.

*NGO: Non Governmental Organization is usually, although not always, is non-profit.

Written by: Cheryl L. Karr

 

 

 

Operation Jungle Cat

Operation Jungle Cat

9 Rescued  –  3 Arrested

They have no passports, no birth certificates and no country. They are considered people with no identification. Stateless. And they live in one of the most dangerous places on earth: The Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia.

This worn-torn part of the world, is made up from parts of Myanmar (formerly Burma), Laos and Thailand, and is known mostly for its opium and heroin production. The area is heavily littered with land mines due to the last 50-60 years of civil unrest and its people are chewed up and spit out by heartless taskmasters.

Children born into such circumstances have little hope of escaping a life in either the drug or sex trade. It is for this very reason that Operation Underground Railroad’s brave jump team dared to venture into this lawless land.

“This was an extremely dangerous operation and we worked very closely with the Thai Border Police and the Thai Army Rangers,” said the team leader. “We also had some special contacts that we’ve worked with previously, who helped us on the borders with the investigation.”

One such contact alerted O.U.R. to victims of sex trafficking who were being held by a Burmese father and son team. The victims had recently come from refugee camps in Bangladesh and Bhutan and were tricked into believing they had found good fortune.

“They are coerced with promises of schooling or a good job,” said O.U.R.’s team leader. There are safe houses or holding houses the traffickers use near and around the border to hold the victims.”

Once at the border, the traffickers use various means to get their victims across and into other countries where they can be sold.

“They will dress these children in school uniforms, pretending they are being sent across the border for school. Once on the other side, they are usually sold from there to a brothel owner or a labor trafficker,” said O.U.R.’s team leader. “They are also used to carry drugs across the border.”

In Operation Jungle Cat, O.U.R. worked very closely with law enforcement to ensure the safety of the children as well as our operatives. It was a very tense and dangerous mission, which led to a total of nine victims being rescued.

It is not unusual in third world countries for younger people and their parents to be fed a story of opportunity for school or success or employment. They are so desperate for that hope that they become vulnerable to predators. Then families who were already barely making ends meet do not have the means or ability to search for their children or convince officials to spend limited resources on these missing children cases. The children resign themselves to participate due to the severe threats of abuse and retribution they have experienced at the hand of the traffickers. The added transfer across a conflicted region leads to a lack of follow-through on such cases. The children truly are lost between government agencies and there are little resources for these cases.

Determining where to place the rescued victims of Operation Jungle Cat was complicated in this lawless land with stateless people. Some were returned to Myanmar while some of the children are in Thailand where members of O.U.R. will follow up with them. Three traffickers were arrested and will most likely serve a minimum of ten years in prison.

Kudos to O.U.R.’s jump team members and all those who risk their lives to find and rescue these victims of sex trafficking. Well done!

Written by: Cheryl L. Karr

 

 

 

Aftercare in Action

Aftercare in Action

They are children. CHILDREN! Trying to survive. Their stories are varied but none are pretty. Some are kidnapped and trafficked for sex or labor. Some have parents or grandparents, who cannot afford to care for them, or simply do not see a problem selling them due to longstanding cultural issues, while others are married off as child brides. And sometimes the children themselves put misplaced faith in those who promise one thing and then deliver something all together different. The end result, in all cases, is enslavement.

Operation Underground Railroad looks for these battered and broken children all over the world, rescues them and has the perpetrators arrested. But then what? What happens to these children? Their lives are shattered and forever changed and they need healing. They have been traumatized and, in many instances, feel that life has nothing to offer them.

Children who can go home, are returned to their parents. Loving parents provide the best support and brightest prospect for recovery. Unfortunately, many of these children have nowhere to go. In some cases, if they return home they are at risk of being sold again.

“When I worked for the government,” says O.U.R. Founder and CEO Tim Ballard, “we turned the children over to recovery facilities that would take care of them. My job was to rescue them. Now, at O.U.R., we are partnering with ‘Aftercare’ facilities to ensure that these children are getting the help they need.”

Recovery is handled differently depending on the country and its laws. One of the things that prompted Ballard to create these partnerships was a country that would not allow O.U.R. to check up on the children once they were rescued. O.U.R. had vetted the recovery facility prior to the rescue and knew the people would take good care of the children, but not having access to follow up on them was a concern.

Today, Operation Underground Railroad has a team member who specializes in international social work and has extensive training in crisis response and trauma counseling. She not only meets with potential aftercare facilities directors and managers, but also works with the girls that are there, ensuring they receive the help they need.

“In December 2015 we were able to identify a specific aftercare center that we partnered with to provide aftercare services for children rescued in the future. The aftercare staff consists of the executive director, social workers, therapists, an amazing house mom and an American woman. As a team they are helping provide holistic care for these girls. All of the staff are very dedicated to their recovery process. In total there are about 20 girls that live there at a time. Due to donated items O.U.R. was able to provide clothes, sandals, puzzles, and school supplies. We are so grateful for the humanitarian donations we have received,” says O.U.R.’s team member.

Gifts for the girls at the Aftercare Center
Gifts for the girls at the Aftercare Center

All these girls are courageous in their struggle to overcome the abuse. One was just 12 years old when she delivered a baby shortly after arriving at the center. Another was rescued from sex traffickers that had taken her to a totally different continent to work. Their stories are disheartening but they now have hope. And they are extremely grateful.

A Rescued Sex Slave painting the fingernails of an O.U.R. Jump Team member
A Rescued Sex Slave painting the fingernails of an O.U.R. Jump Team member

“The joy and gratefulness for such small gifts was truly humbling. The girls treat each other like family. They were excited for each other and expressed how beautiful they felt in their new clothes. One girl said, ‘I have the most beautiful sisters and am very grateful for the encouragement they give me.’ One could feel the spirit of joy and healing in this home,” observed the team member.

In addition to the practical items for the girls, O.U.R. members in collaboration with local leaders in the fight against human trafficking were able to provide a unified training with those who run various aftercare centers. “We provided training for social workers, counselors, therapists and house moms. All of those who attended, work directly with survivors, including the agency O.U.R. has partnered with. We also partnered with Smarter Parenting, which is a branch of the Utah Youth Village. Based on the request of the country we were serving in, we were able to bring them this skill-based program, that has years of evidenced-based research in how to help youth grow and thrive. It was only through collaboration with the in-country leaders that we were able to bring helpful resources,” says the O.U.R. team member.

Operation Underground Railroad is actively seeking out aftercare partners that will continue to help with the recovery and healing these young victims need to believe in themselves and their future. Next month we will bring you an update on one young girl who was kidnapped and pregnant when O.U.R. rescued her. Today her future is looking very bright.

Written by: Cheryl L. Karr