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!
The following list of key terms used in sex trafficking is published in the book Renting Lacy: A Story of America’s Prostituted Children by Linda Smith.
To learn more, order your copy of Renting Lacy today.*
Automatic — A term denoting the victim’s “automatic” routine when her pimp is out of town, in jail, or otherwise not in direct contact with those he is prostituting. Victims are expected to comply with the rules and often do so out of fear of punishment or because they have been psychologically manipulated into a sense of loyalty or love. All money generated on “automatic” is turned over to the pimp. This money may be used to support his concession/phone account or to pay his bond if he’s in jail.
Bottom — A female appointed by the trafficker/pimp to supervise the others and report rule violations. Operating as his “right hand,” the Bottom may help instruct victims, collect money, book hotel rooms, post ads, or inflict punishments on other girls.
Branding — A tattoo or carving on a victim that indicates ownership by a trafficker/pimp/gang.
Brothel (a/k/a Cathouse or Whorehouse) — These establishments may be apartments, houses, trailers, or any facility where sex is sold on the premises. It could be in a rural area or nice neighborhood. Most brothels have security measures to prevent attacks by other criminals or provide a warning if law enforcement are nearby. The security is two sided–to keep the women and children in, as well as robbers out. The places often are guarded (and open) 24 hours a day, but some have closing times in which the victims are locked in from the outside. Victims may be kept in this location for extended periods of time, or rotated to other locations every few days.
Caught A Case — A term that refers to when a pimp or victim has been arrested and charged with a crime.
Choosing Up — The process by which a different pimp takes “ownership” of a victim. Victims are instructed to keep their eyes on the ground at all times. According to traditional pimping rules, when a victim makes eye contact with another pimp (accidentally or on purpose), she is choosing him to be her pimp. If the original pimp wants the victim back, he must pay a fee to the new pimp. When this occurs, he will force the victim to work harder to replace the money lost in transaction. (See Reckless Eyeballing)
Circuit — A series of cities among which prostituted people are moved. One example would be the West Coast circuit of San Diego, Las Vegas, Portland, and the cities between. The term can also refer to a chain of states such as the “Minnesota pipeline” by which victims are moved through a series of locations from Minnesota to markets in New York.
Daddy — The term a pimp will often require his victim to call him.
Date — The exchange when prostitution takes place, or the activity of prostitution. A victim is said to be “with a date” or “dating.”
Escort Service — An organization, operating chiefly via cell phone and the internet, which sends a victim to a buyer’s location (an “outcall”) or arranges for the buyer to come to a house or apartment (an “in-call”); this may be the workplace of a single woman or a small brothel. Some escort services are networked with others and can assemble large numbers of women for parties and conventions.
Exit Fee — The money a pimp will demand from a victim who is thinking about trying to leave. It will be an exorbitant sum, to discourage her from leaving. Most pimps never let their victims leave freely.
Family/Folks — The term used to describe the other individuals under the control of the same pimp. He plays the role of father (or “Daddy”) while the group fulfills the need for a “family.”
Finesse Pimp/Romeo Pimp — One who prides himself on controlling others primarily through psychological manipulation. Although he may shower his victims with affection and gifts (especially during the recruitment phase), the threat of violence is always present.
Gorilla (or Guerilla) Pimp — A pimp who controls his victims almost entirely through physical violence and force.
“John” (a/k/a Buyer or “Trick”) — An individual who pays for or trades something of value for sexual acts.
Kiddie Stroll – An area known for prostitution that features younger victims.
Lot Lizard — Derogatory term for a person who is being prostituted at truck stops.
Madam — An older woman who manages a brothel, escort service or other prostitution establishment. She may work alone or in collaboration with other traffickers.
Out of Pocket — The phrase describing when a victim is not under control of a pimp but working on a pimp-controlled track, leaving her vulnerable to threats, harassment, and violence in order to make her “choose” a pimp. This may also refer to a victim who is disobeying the pimp’s rules.
Pimp Circle — When several pimps encircle a victim to intimidate through verbal and physical threats in order to discipline the victim or force her to choose up.
Quota — A set amount of money that a trafficking victim must make each night before she can come “home.” Quotas are often set between $300 and $2000. If the victim returns without meeting the quota, she is typically beaten and sent back out on the street to earn the rest. Quotas vary according to geographic region, local events, etc.
Reckless Eyeballing — A term which refers to the act of looking around instead of keeping your eyes on the ground. Eyeballing is against the rules and could lead an untrained victim to “choose up” by mistake.
Renegade — A person involved in prostitution without a pimp.
Seasoning — A combination of psychological manipulation, intimidation, gang rape, sodomy, beatings, deprivation of food or sleep, isolation from friends or family and other sources of support, and threatening or holding hostage of a victim’s children. Seasoning is designed to break down a victim’s resistance and ensure compliance.
Squaring Up — Attempting to escape or exit prostitution.
Stable — A group of victims who are under the control of a single pimp.
The Game/The Life — The subculture of prostitution, complete with rules, a hierarchy of authority, and language. Referring to the act of pimping as ‘the game’ gives the illusion that it can be a fun and easy way to make money, when the reality is much harsher. Women and girls will say they’ve been “in the life” if they’ve been involved in prostitution for a while.
Track (a/k/a Stroll or Blade) — An area of town known for prostitution activity. This can be the area around a group of strip clubs and pornography stores, or a particular stretch of street.
Trade Up/Trade Down — To move a victim like merchandise between pimps. A pimp may trade one girl for another or trade with some exchange of money.
Trick — Committing an act of prostitution (verb), or the person buying it (noun). A victim is said to be “turning a trick” or “with a trick.”
Turn Out — To be forced into prostitution (verb) or a person newly involved in prostitution (noun).
Wifeys/Wife-in-Law/Sister Wife — What women and girls under the control of the same pimp call each other. (See Family/Folks and Stable.)
* Listed on Sharedhope International’s website. Quoted from the book: Renting Lacy
Operation Underground Railroad’s Aftercare Program: Unity and Collaboration
In a world of division Operation Underground Railroad longs for collaboration to serve those in need of safe and loving homes. At this time O.U.R. finds it most effective to partner with well-established existing facilities who understand the culture and the community best, according to O.U.R.’s Director of Aftercare, Jessica Mass.
Operation Underground Railroad has now partnered with homes in over 15 countries and that number continues to grow as Mass reaches out to potential partners that share the same vision and passion about empowering survivors of trafficking.
“One of the major factors I am looking for when vetting an aftercare home is the long-term vision of what it means to provide care,” says Mass. “This factor is vital because some facilities might have all the standard areas of care, but we have to find partners with the mindset, ‘Once you’re here, you’re family for life.’” Additional areas of importance when vetting aftercare partners are: holistic services, mental, physical, educational, medical, and vocational training, as well as transparency.
There is one particular aftercare facility O.U.R. has been developing a relationship with in Africa for nearly a year. Providing resources and expertise has been a top priority. O.U.R. has also brought in professionals to train workers, and assisted with many other additional needs. This collaboration has laid the foundation for a mutual feeling of trust and unity.
This past month Operation Underground Railroad chose this aftercare home for its first official humanitarian trip. Vetted professionals assisted in providing skills and training in their particular area of expertise.
These humanitarian trips are also supported through those who want to help survivors but aren’t sure what they can do. As a result, O.U.R. has created Suitcases with a Mission that donors can assemble with family, friends, neighbors, church groups, etc.
There are several different themed suitcases that aftercare centers are able to use. Examples of the themed suitcases are: Sport Suitcases, Craft Suitcases, Kitchen Suitcases, Health and Beauty suitcases. O.U.R. provides a list of items that go into the suitcase. Donors provide the suitcase, which can either be used or new, however, all items put inside the suitcase need to be new. Once the suitcase is filled and ready to go, it will be taken by the O.U.R. Aftercare group on their next humanitarian trip.
On this particular humanitarian trip to Africa, Mass and her team took a few different Suitcases with a Mission; a Health and Beauty Suitcase and a Craft Suitcase to the aftercare home. These were filled with beauty supplies, hygiene kits, books, and journals. “The girls absolutely loved the journals,” says Mass. One girl, in particular, was overjoyed. “She started jumping up and down, running through the house with excitement; she was thrilled.” Mass says this girl enjoys writing and hopes to become an author one day. Writing can also be a very therapeutic part of the emotional healing processing.
The children in this aftercare home range in age from 12-18. Through the love and healing they experience here, they are empowered to continue their education. Eventually they will find a career they enjoy with the various skill-sets they have learned because of the aftercare help they have received. This often happens through the loving care of the staff that have the mentality of a family unit.
One survivor, now in her early 20s, has returned to help these younger girls who are going through the healing process- the same process that she once went through after being a victim of sex trafficking. She is studying to become a social worker and is giving back to those who helped her find a new life. This survivor told us that she has a strong belief that families come in all different ways. To those that were family to her, she now assists by being family to others.
This young woman represents the hope O.U.R. has for all those who are rescued; to become empowered to find their own purpose in life and help others along the journey. It can be a long and difficult road, but it is possible with the help of O.U.R. and its aftercare partners, who are full of heart.
We appreciate the efforts of all those involved in the healing process for victims around the world. There are so many wonderful aftercare facilities and individuals that provide critical support to the healing journey for these girls.
If you or your group is looking for a humanitarian service project in conjunction with the Aftercare program, please consider contacting O.U.R.’s Volunteer Coordinator, Jani Dix at Jani@ourrescue.org.
There is something EACH of us can do to make a difference through unity and collaboration. Thank you for being a part of the O.U.R. family!
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
“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.”
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.”
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.
This is a story about “Alicia,” a victim of child trafficking rescued by O.U.R. in a Latin American country in early 2015. Currently on her long road to recovery, she is facing the ups and downs of psychological challenges common to trafficking survivors who had to endure months or years of rape and other physical and emotional abuse. Many of these survivors are unable to regain the life that God surely intended for them, but thanks to generous O.U.R. donors, Alicia just might be one who is able to overcome her ordeal, despite the steep hill she is facing.
Imagine if you were abandoned by your parents at the age of six years old because they chose to move to the United States illegally in search of a better life for themselves. Imagine further if your mother and father chose never to return for you, and instead maintained contact only through a brief phone call every two weeks. Such was the childhood and adolescence that Alicia endured. Alicia was raised by her grandmother in a Latin American beach town popular with Americans and other western tourists.
Grandma was a loving and caring woman, but at her advanced age she was not always able to keep tabs on her 16-year-old granddaughter. Alicia was a susceptible target to cunning human traffickers who lurked in her town, looking for vulnerable and impressionable young girls upon whom to prey and lure into the commercial sex industry. Alicia was forced to endure many months of sexual exploitation before an O.U.R. jump team rescued her, in a daring operation that also resulted in the liberation of a 19-year-old girl and the arrest of three traffickers. O.U.R. officials immediately got Alicia into a vetted aftercare center in the country’s capital city, and generous donations from O.U.R. supporters provided a monthly stipend that covered her aftercare.
Things went well in the initial months of Alicia’s recovery, and she even felt secure enough to share with federal authorities information and intelligence on other trafficking networks that were abusing young girls in her town. This information led law enforcement to conduct a follow-up rescue that saved 12 girls and arrested six suspected traffickers. However, as is the case with so many survivors of the horror of human trafficking, Alicia’s emotions and mental state cratered after about six months in recovery.
In late 2015 her struggle increased with her being able to interact with the shelter staff and her fellow survivors. Due to her not being able to continue to progress the staff felt obligated to move her to another aftercare home. Under the guidance of her counselor, she was taken about a 90-minute drive to the southeast of the capital city. Although Alicia was moved to a first-rate facility with a loving and caring staff, her initial weeks there were incredibly difficult. Alicia expressed her desire to leave the shelter and return to her hometown, despite the high probability that she would be re-trafficked or even killed by local organized crime groups.
O.U.R. rescue and aftercare officials had been closely tracking Alicia’s struggles. Upon learning of her struggle to continue working through her trauma, we dispatched a delegation to travel to her new shelter and meet Alicia face-to-face to see what might be done to keep her in the program and on the path to recovery. After multiple conversations with Alicia and encouragement to dream and consider what she would like to do with her life, she shared that she would love to become a chef. In consultation with the shelter staff, O.U.R. was able to fund through our generous donors to pay for weekly cooking classes not only for Alicia, but also for some of her fellow survivors.
The shelter hired a prominent female chef in the region—who agreed to provide her services at a greatly reduced cost—and arranged for the donation of all cooking ingredients. The chef herself told the girls that she had come from a poor background, but through hard work and commitment she had been able to rise to the top of her profession. She told each of her cooking students that they could become anything they wanted to be, but they first needed to be willing to work hard and stay committed.
After just a few months in the cooking class, the shelter staff reports that Alicia has made a complete turnaround and appears to have a new lease on life. She has rapidly distinguished herself as the top student in the class, but even more importantly, has become a model citizen in the aftercare home.
Alicia is now a positive and productive influence on both the staff and her fellow survivors. We visited again in mid-June to check on her, and are so proud of the progress she is making. All of us continue to pray for her full recovery. We hope you enjoy these pictures of the positive changes being made in the life of this precious trafficking survivor, changes made possible through generous donations to O.U.R. Without you, none of this would be possible. Thank you so very much!
Silence is not always golden. In fact, many injustices continue today because those who would fight against them are not aware they even exist. Such is the case with child sex trafficking and slavery – until now.
The feature-length documentary The Abolitionists premiered in theaters nation-wide May 16th, enlightening audiences who previously were blissfully unaware of this dark side of the world.
They now know that child sex slavery is one of the biggest plagues of our day and is growing by the minute. Sweet, innocent children, are kidnapped, sold, or tricked into becoming sex slaves and movie stars of pornographic videos. It is real. It is happening. And it needs to be stopped.
The Abolitionists is the story about a former CIA officer and HSI agent, Tim Ballard, who unwillingly became exposed to this dark side of humanity during his 12 years with the government.
It only took one rescue for Ballard to realize these children needed saving. Since then he has left government service and begun his own non-profit organization, Operation Underground Railroad, to rescue these children.
Movie theaters were sold out across the country for the premier. Some were bought by modern-day abolitionists who are doing what they can to help rescue these children. Other theaters, simply sold individual tickets. The Larry H. Miller Theaters donated all proceeds of the movie to O.U.R. for the rescuing of children – a very generous gift.
Current estimates put viewers at around 35,000 for the May 16th event. Exact figures are still coming in. Reactions have been inspiring. People have been shocked, saddened and amazed at what is happening to children around the world. Here are just a few of the comments from viewers:
“When I saw the movie The Abolitionists, I was heartbroken at just how many innocent children are being forced to be trafficked and forced to be sex slaves.” William Billiam
“Well done. Didn’t like the subject matter, but that’s why it made an impact. God bless this film and the light it is shining on human trafficking.” Helen Matter
“Very inspirational and informative for everyone. We really need to work together to stop human trafficking.” Melissa Peters
“As dark as the subject matter is, I love the hope and light that are fighting the darkness!” Jenn Foote
A movement has begun. Since the premier of the film on May 16th, volunteers are signing up with O.U.R. in record numbers to help rescue these children.
“It has been amazing to see the response of people after they have seen the film. They are motivated and ready to do all they can to put an end to this atrocity,” said O.U.R.’s National Volunteer Coordinator Jani Dix. “People are willing to give their time and talents and truly believe they need to be part of this solution. There is a lot of darkness in this world and you see that in the film, but there is also so much light and the O.U.R. volunteers are a testament of that.”
Since the premier of the film, over 550 volunteers have signed up to help O.U.R. fight this plague, bringing together an army of 1300 worldwide to rescue these children. And there is something everyone can do.
You don’t need to donate money to help, although that is a great way and very much needed. Many volunteers offer their talents to the cause. Some are helping by organizing events, some are writing articles or giving presentations that spread the word. We encourage you to help in whatever way you can, because once you know this is going on, it is very difficult to do nothing.
Helen Keller once said, “I am only one but still I am one. I cannot do everything but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”
Tim Ballard saw something wrong and is doing what he can to right it. “My goal is to eradicate this heinous crime all around the world. That may take some time, but I believe we can do it.”
What will you do to help? Visit our website at ourrescue.org to discover the many ways you can make a difference.
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.”
Total To Date: 529 Rescued – 182 Arrested
In April 2016 O.U.R. hit the 500 mark for the number of rescues of victims of sex trafficking. Far more than its founder, Tim Ballard, was able to accomplish in the 10 years he worked with Homeland Security rescuing children from sex traffickers.
Currently O.U.R. is averaging four to five rescues per month. The exact number of victims rescued as of this writing is 529, but Ballard will tell you it’s not the numbers that count. “We are action focused,” said Ballard. The quantifiable numbers show our progress, but they only tell a part of the story.”
One of the most important areas of success can’t really be measured. It is the deterrent effect. And that is the result of catching traffickers and pedophiles before they can get to their targets.
“There are children out there right now who will never be trafficked because the people that would have trafficked them are in jail,” said Ballard. “And they don’t even know they would have been trafficked because it never happened. You can’t measure that.”
The second deterrent is the fear of getting caught. With O.U.R.’s successes, many traffickers are now afraid to sell children where O.U.R. has been operating, and pedophiles are afraid to buy them. O.U.R.’s jump team verified this recently when returning to areas where they had previously conducted stings, working undercover, trying to buy children. The traffickers informed them that it is now very dangerous and they will no longer sell children. This is the goal O.U.R. hopes to replicate all over the world.
Operation Underground Railroad first began rescuing children two and a half years ago in developing countries where resources are limited and children are most vulnerable due to poverty and cultural issues. O.U.R. always works within the law and with law enforcement in a public/private partnership that is resulting in a very successful model.
Law enforcement in the United States is taking notice of O.U.R.’s impressive record in these developing countries and some areas of the country are now partnering with O.U.R. to help supplement their meager budgets since O.U.R. does not charge for their services.
To date O.U.R. has helped law enforcement in the U.S. rescue eight children and arrest 47 potential pedophiles. And according to O.U.R.’s COO Jerry Gowen, the arrests are the number we should be paying attention to because for every pedophile taken off the streets, numerous children will never be violated.
O.U.R. is leveraging technology to help eradicate pornography and shine a light on the problem of child sex abuse in the United States as well as other countries. “We’re helping rescue children in so many ways,” said Gowen. As we get more resources we’ll do even more.” O.U.R. is currently operating in Southeast Asia, South, Central and North America and The Caribbean with the goal of one day eliminating child sex trafficking all over the globe.
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.
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.