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Stay Current With O.U.R. – Rescue Report

Stay Current With O.U.R. – Rescue Report

Live every Wednesday at 3:30 pm MDT on Facebook, Operation Underground Railroad’s Founder and CEO Tim Ballard will be presenting a special message to O.U.R. supporters around the world. The live event will also include operation updates, special stories from the field, aftercare efforts and much more.

The Rescue Report first launched just a few weeks ago with Ballard talking directly to parents and providing them with four ways to protect their children from sex predators. If you missed it, you can still catch a recording of it by going to Operation Underground Railroad’s Facebook page HERE. Ballard followed up the next day with answers to questions people wrote in during the live event. In addition to answering questions, Ballard shared ways in which he is able to get out of the dark place that he works in and fill his life with light.

O.U.R. is developing a number of ways to get its message out. The Rescue Report on Facebook Live is just one of many features. The ultimate goal is to involve everyone, as awareness generates interest, and interest results in new Abolitionist ($5/mo recurring donors) that make it possible to rescue and help more victims of sex trafficking.

The first Rescue Report generated over 40,000 viewers, which is huge, but it could be a lot more. With over 700 million subscribers to Facebook, O.U.R. is hoping to reach at least one million in the near future. Abolitionists can help O.U.R. by liking and sharing the Rescue Report on their personal Facebook pages, as well as other O.U.R. content.

Ballard says, “Good people don’t know about this plague because they aren’t searching for these kinds of things. It’s hard to get good people to fight a fight they don’t know about. We need to help people know about it.”

One way you can help is to like and share this message with as many people as possible. Awareness is the first key in stopping sex trafficking. Help people be aware; like and share!

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Signs of Slavery

Signs of Slavery

Signs of Slavery

By Donovan Baltich

A toy truck emblazoned with a pink heart within a heart made national headlines for all the wrong reasons in March. The story, originally reported by WFLA Tampa, then The Huffington Post, Parent Herald and many others shared that the symbol is a code used for sex traffickers to communicate that a child is ready for sale.

As the symbol’s meaning is lost on both the vendor and parents who bought the toy, it posed no risk in this case, but it does stress the importance of being aware.

Chances are you know or have seen a victim of sex trafficking. The acts take place in private, but the symptoms are more than public. A victim could be the child at the street corner, on the bus, or seated next to you in class. And no, it’s not only a third-world problem; it takes place in the United States as well. And it’s a growing problem.

“The second most important goal that Operation Underground Railroad does, after saving kids, is to show people that sex slavery exists,” says O.U.R. Founder and CEO Tim Ballard. “People just have to see it and they’re instantly converted.”

Victims feel powerless and won’t speak up for themselves, so it’s up to you to empower them and give them a voice. It all begins with knowing the signs of sex trafficking.

Know the Signs

Information in the following lists came in part from Love 146 and Polaris, two fellow organizations that fight to eradicate modern-day slavery.

What vulnerabilities do sex traffickers take advantage of?

Sex traffickers are prone to target children who are easily manipulated and who are less likely to be checked up on. Common vulnerabilities include children who:

Have a history of sexual abuse, neglect or domestic violence

  • Have other family members involved in commercial sex
  • Have been displaced by a social or natural disaster
  • Are part of undocumented, stateless or ostracized groups
  • Are impoverished or have family under financial strain
  • Run away from home or skip school frequently
  • Experiment with risky sexual behaviors or drugs
  • Have low self-esteem

What are common fronts traffickers use to sell children for sex?

 Children are often recruited through false promises concerning the nature of their work. Whether it is a runaway who needs to buy his next meal or a teenage beauty queen hoping to make it in the world of modeling, traffickers establish all kinds of fronts to lure victims.

In Cartagena, Colombia, Tim Ballard shared that a group of traffickers lured young girls with the help of a well-known local beauty queen to recruit through a false modeling agency. “It was big news when the truth came out about her because everyone knew her — this beauty queen who turned and sells 11- and 12-year-old girls.”

Some of the most common places where children can be lured and sold for sex include:

  • Strip clubs and exotic dance venues
  • Online ads, chat services and pornography sites
  • Begging in the streets
  • Escort or dating services
  • Housecleaning, child and elderly care
  • Restaurants or bars
  • Factories, sweatshops and agricultural work
  • Hotel, motels, massage parlors and salons

What are some red flags of a child abuse?

Traffickers prevent children from feeling any hope about attaining freedom by setting up financial, travel, surveillance and mental barriers. Watch for these signs along with physical and behavioral signs.

 Lack of control

  • Has guardians, older partners or “sponsors” who monitor the victim excessively and insist on speaking on his or her behalf at all times
  • Excessive security may be in place at the victim’s home/work (security cameras, boarded or covered windows, etc.)
  • Various men go to and from the victim’s work/home frequently
  • Has no control of his or her own passport and other identification documents
  • Has no control of his or her own money, bank account or financial documents
  • Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off
  • Has few or no personal possessions

Behavioral signs

  • Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior at the mention of law enforcement
  • Acts jumpy, overly submissive or avoids eye contact
  • Is unable to give answers about his or her schedule or living and work locations/conditions
  • Makes claims of just visiting and has an inability to clarify where he or she is staying
  • Has a lack of knowledge of whereabouts and does not know what city he or she is in
  • Has inconsistencies in his/her story; contradictory personal information (age, place of birth, family life)
  • Sudden detachment or isolation from family members and friends
  • Receives no or very little pay, or is paid only through tips
  • Appears to work and live in the same location
  • Works excessively long and/or unusual hours

Physical signs

  • Tattoos with names that aren’t his or her own, and is reluctant to explain
  • Noticeable change in dress, jewelry, hair or nails without explainable source of income
  • Suffers from substance abuse problems, psychological disorders, sexually transmitted diseases, or chronic illnesses
  • Carries multiple hotel key cards, large amounts of cash and sharp objects to use as weapons
  • Appears fearful, malnourished, anxious or depressed
  • Has bruises, cuts or burns

What can I do to help?

1. Share this post with your friends.

2. Support and learn more about Operation Underground Railroad. Sign up today to become an abolitionist by donating $5 a month to the cause.

3. Create your own YourRescue campaign at ourrescue.org.

4. Be aware of warning signs and vulnerabilities. If you suspect someone may be a victim of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733 (BeFree), or contact OURrescue.org.

“Once you see it, you can’t NOT do something about it.” – Tim Ballard

 

 

 

 

Changing The World

Changing The World

 

A Night At “The Abolitionists” Film

The lights came back on and the audience just sat there, amazed, following a special screening of the movie The Abolitionists (PG-13). They clapped, they cried, and they were inspired to do something.

The feature length film follows Operation Underground Railroad’s jump team around the world as they plan and execute rescue missions of children enslaved in sex trafficking all around the world. It shows the joys of rescue as well as the struggles of working with evil. And it’s coming to movie theaters across the country May 16 th for one special night.

Audience member Stephanie Davis said, “It was very powerful, very well done. This is a dark subject and this is a great way to reach people and educate them. I want to do something.”

Danielle Swopes said, “I cried the whole time. The part where she sold the two kids – it just seems so remote. It’s heartbreaking. It totally kills your faith in humanity. But it was restored by what O.U.R. is doing.”

Andrew McCovins said, “I thought the film was awesome – very realistic. I like three different plots and I love the cause anyway. I just made a donation.”

This private screening was put together by a man who works in real estate investment funds by day, but is an O.U.R. jump team member by night. He invited his business associates, clients and friends to the screening. “In this theater there are 500 people with a net worth of ten billion dollars,” he said. His aim was to raise money to help rescue children from sex trafficking immediately following the showing of the film.

As the movie ended, “Paul” got up and started telling the audience what it’s been like working with O.U.R. and helping to rescue the children. As he spoke a slide was projected onto the screen with a number to text to donate, and the money started trickling in; small amounts at first and then it began to take off.

Paul finished speaking and O.U.R.’s Founder and CEO Tim Ballard took the spotlight and told everyone how Paul has helped O.U.R. as well as the children.

Next up was Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes. He spoke about his experience on Operation Triple Take and alerting the audience to the fact that sex trafficking is one of the greatest issues of our time with 20 to 40 million men, women, and children trapped in slavery today.

Paul came back to the stage to announce the total amount that had just been raised. Everyone clapped but it was way short of Paul’s goal. Pledge cards were passed out and a special auction was held for a limited number of private dinners with Tim Ballard and Sean Reyes.

Now the donation total continued to climb, but some people were starting to leave. Unfazed, Paul continued to tell how O.U.R. had changed his life and how pornography and sex trafficking are the plague of this generation. The more he talked, the more the money came pouring in.

AUDIENCE

The evening ended with a final plea from Paul to help rescue these enslaved children and he wasn’t disappointed. Audience members opened their hearts and their wallets and helped Paul meet his goal. And the best part is that the essential oils company doTERRA is matching whatever Paul was able to raise this night. A true gift that O.U.R. is extremely grateful for.

Now Operation Underground Railroad is asking you to step up to the plate. If you are able to host a movie theater on May 16th and fill it with associates, clients, and friends, O.U.R. would love to show you how to do it. Just contact us at jend@ourrescue.org. Following the screening there will be a special Q & A with O.U.R.’s Founder and CEO Tim Ballard shown in the theaters.

O.U.R. knows not everyone has the fundraising abilities of a “Paul,” but large companies and corporations can sponsor a theater and fill it with their corporate family and friends. Theater sponsorships range from $2000-$5000, depending on the seating capacity of the theater.

“There are a total of 600 theaters currently available to O.U.R. by AMA, Cinemark, and Regal,” said Marketing Director Hugh Vail. “Now it’s our responsibility to fill them.”

If you are more of a movie “attendee” rather that a movie “sponsor” you can help by telling your friends and family about the movie and attending the screening at a movie theater near you on May 16th. Ticket information is available by clicking here, and a percentage of all movie sales will go to help rescue children from slavery.

Some people have expressed concern about the content of the movie. “They don’t know if they’re going to see pornography. They don’t know if they’re going to hear swearing, but once they view it they say, ‘It was very well done,’ and become abolitionists and want to do something,” said Vail. The PG-13 rating is related to the subject matter. There is no pornography or swearing.

The Abolitionists’ Executive Producer Jerry Molen, who co-produced Schindler’s List and Jurassic Park, among many other award winning films, wanted to make sure this movie would be uplifting and inspiring. Now in his 70s, he calls it his “Swan Song,” and hopes it will leave a lasting impression on all who see it.

The main goal of the film is to in bring awareness to this modern-day plague and inspire people to do something about it. “The big thing about this movie is that it’s a catalyst for a movement,” said Vail. “It has the ability to change the world.”

Written by: Cheryl L. Karr

Links:

The Abolitionists Movie Trailer

How to Sponsor a Movie Theater: email Jend@ourrescue.org                                                 

Buy Tickets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Operation Black Mamba

Operation Black Mamba

14 Rescued  – 2 Arrested

They call it the flesh market. Code for young girls wanted for sex. And the flesh market is running rampant in India.

The girls are hidden – literally – behind trapped doors. Locked. Only able to come out when their services are required. There are no windows, no fresh air, and no freedom. Some try to escape and are severely punished for the effort if caught. Most accept their fate as something they have no control over and are doomed to live in the shadows.

In February, Operation Underground Railroad, in partnership with the Indian Rescue Mission (IRM), rescued 14 young women living under such horrific conditions in Mumbai, India. Two of which were minors.

According to one O.U.R. jump team member, there are many such places in India and they are not too difficult to find. “It’s pretty easy,” he says. “I just have to walk down the street. We call it the hunt. We start at one end of the street and go on down it.”

He and his team know what they are looking for. “I’ll go to the bathroom, pretending I’m drunk, and look through the different hallways and will find girls. If I get caught I just say I’m lost.”

“If I can talk to the girls, I’ll ask them about where they’re from, if they have brothers and sisters. If they act stressed or if they have injuries this allows us to assess whether their stories are provided to them by the traffickers or not. Often they are abused or beaten,” says the O.U.R. jump team member. “I try to break down walls by asking, ‘Do you like it here? No. Do you have a passport to get back home? No.’ After a while you get a feeling for whether they’re telling the truth or not.”

This particular rescue operation was led by O.U.R.’s NGO* partner IRM in conjunction with the Joint Commissioner of Police and the Deputy Commissioner of Police in Mumbai. After identifying the brothel, a team of 20 police personnel plus officers raided the bar at midnight. Only four girls were found, but they knew there were more. They just had to find them.

Hours of searching through long corridors and darkened rooms eventually yielded ten additional girls hidden in a small room that was obscured from view behind a wooden cupboard. These rescued girls have now been placed with a trusted aftercare facility where they will get the help they need to adjust to freedom and self-reliance.

The dance bar has been shut down and the owner arrested and charged with sex trafficking. O.U.R. will continue to monitor the situation to ensure that he pays for this crime.

No one should have to live this type of life and yet there are thousands of young women in India who are doomed to it. O.U.R. continues to look for them with the help of its NGO partners and will not stop until there are no more to be found.

*NGO: Non Governmental Organization

Written by: Cheryl L. Karr