It’s been one year since Operation Underground Railroad conducted Operation Triple Take in Colombia resulting in the rescue of 123 victims of sexual exploitation with 12 traffickers arrested.
It was, and still is the biggest operation O.U.R. has conducted to date. Three Jump Teams in three different cities, executing a simultaneous sting in order to rescue sex trafficking victims; and it went off without a hitch due to the strategic planning of O.U.R., CTI (Colombia’s FBI equivalent) and Homeland Security Investigations from the U.S.
Today, many of the victims that were rescued are back with their families, safe and sound, if not a little wiser about the world. Many of these families were duped by the traffickers into believing they were sending their children to become models that would make lots of money to send back home. In fact, one of the traffickers was a former beauty pageant queen in Colombia and used her position to gain the trust of parents and their children.
Today, she, along with the other traffickers that were arrested, is in jail awaiting her fate. According to O.U.R.’s Senior VP for Rescue Missions Matt Osborne:
“The legal cases are ongoing, and despite intense efforts by the suspected traffickers and their families to gain their release, thus far the Colombian justice system is holding and the alleged perpetrators remain behind bars. The organized criminals and their families have threatened our partners in Renacer, CTI and elsewhere, but the brave Colombian prosecutors, police officers and the NGO specialists remain undeterred. The trials are likely to begin in the first quarter of 2016.”
One of the would-be sex buyers was arrested in Florida for his part in the sex party as well as other potential sex crimes including making pornographic films with minors. Dennis DeJesus, 45, of North Lauderdale was investigated by Homeland Security agents, which had evidence he was intending to fly to Colombia as a sex tourist, someone who travels in search of sex. As a result of the strong case HSI, CTI and O.U.R. put together, DeJesus had no other choice but to plead guilty and is currently serving 15 years in prison.
You can read more about his arrest and plea deal in Florida here.
In the city of Armenia, many of the victims have received additional support to combat the ongoing threats and pressure from the network of traffickers. The evidence O.U.R. and CTI collected during the sting however, looks to be strong enough to build a solid case against the suspected trafficker for a 15-20 year sentence.
According to Osborne, “The CTI partners remain in contact with many of the families of the survivors and report that most are doing well. The communities remain very happy with O.U.R.’s actions and the parents of the survivors are doing what they can to ensure their children do not fall prey to another trafficking organization.”
Rescued victims were treated by Renacer, http://www.fundarenacer.com/ a private-run organization that relies on donors. Osborne says, “Renacer truly is a first class rehabilitation center that provides the gamut of services to help any exploited child get back on her or his feet. Some of the survivors of Operation Triple Take received temporary medical, psychological and education-related care in the facilities, while a few survivors had to undergo full-time, live-in training to get them back on their feet.” Due to the sensitive nature and age of the victims we are not able to give individual stories.
Osborne reports that, “Following Operation Triple Take several members of CTI and the Colombian National Police (CNP), sometimes working in conjunction with the US Embassy, have stepped up their operational pace against traffickers and have looked to attack this problem head-on. Colombian authorities appear energized by the results of Triple Take and are looking to branch out on their own, exactly what the O.U.R. model encourages.”
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes honored the Colombian team recently for its efforts in reducing child sex trafficking, acknowledging their bravery in taking this step and noting that O.U.R. could not have done it without them.
“Colombia is our most competent, committed, and forward-leaning partner in South America, and we are looking to maximize this potential to save as many exploited kids as possible,” said Osborne.
Written by: Cheryl L. Karr