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Stories about people from the O.U.R. Team

O.U.R. PART OF SPECIAL TRAINING IN THAILAND

O.U.R. PART OF SPECIAL TRAINING IN THAILAND

 O.U.R. Thailand Country Coordinator, Jib, attended a two-day Pattaya police network training on law and process for victims of child abuse. The training was held at Pattaya City Hall on the 3rd-4th of April.  

 

 

 

Mr. Sarot Nakbet is an honorable instructor from a prosecution team under Princess Bajrakitiyabha. He was invited by the Social Development Office of Pattaya City Municipality to lead his team for this training called, “Stop Violent Acts to Children in The Family.” This will aide Pattaya area workers in the child protection network combined with government offices, NGO, volunteers from communities, Tourism Police Volunteers, and ACT Pattaya (TICAC police).

 

Pictured left to right: Jib, an O.U.R. employee, Khun Amm from Upstream Family and Community Learning Center-Chiangmai, Khun Sudjai from Haven Children’s Home Family-Pattaya, and Khun Arunratsami, a social worker from the Social Development Office of Pattaya City Municipality.

 

 

Jib had the opportunity to meet Sister Piyachat from A Fountain of Life Foundation of the Catholic Church who presented issues on child cases in Pattaya city, asking for TICAC investigation and cooperation. She expressed her appreciation and hopes for continued partnership in the future to save the children.

 

Good News Florida: Operation Underground Railroad Rescues Children

Good News Florida: Operation Underground Railroad Rescues Children

Thank you Good News Florida and Tami Gomez for helping us shine a light on the dark world of Human Trafficking. Article below:

Human trafficking is a horrible evil present in our world today. Worse than simple trafficking, however, is child sex trafficking; a booming criminal industry that specializes in providing depraved individuals with children to satiate their perverted desires. These children are often sold multiple times per day to such individuals to be used, humiliated and abused, and passed along. These children are human beings made in the image of God, who are being treated so horribly. Operation Underground Railroad (OUR) has dedicated itself to freeing children from these appalling situations and getting them safely back to their families or to new families.

OUR, based out of California, is a non-profit organization that rescues victims of exploitation and human trafficking around the world. According to Osborne they have operated in fifteen countries worldwide including Colombia, Haiti, India, Thailand and others. While their focus is on children, OUR saves people of all ages. Over the course of three years, they have rescued about 600 individuals from some of the darkest possible situations.

OUR works in various ways to bring sex traffickers to justice and free their prey. They always work with local authorities to capture and bring offenders to justice. Matt Osborne, senior vice president for Rescue and Rehabilitation, said that OUR serves as a “force multiplier” as they help fill financial, training, technology and personnel gaps in the countries in which they operate. In some cases, that means helping train officials to be able to handle trafficking situations more effectively for themselves.

Rescue

In other cases, OUR brings in their own personnel to handle a situation. Their fully trained operatives, called the Jump Team, will pose as American child sex tourists to be able to capture the criminals who exploit children. Once money changes hands, local authorities come in SWAT-style, arrest the perpetrators and take them to be tried in a court of law. Due to the dangerous nature of these operations, many Jump Team members will pray before, during and after operations for safety and a successful mission.

When asked if his job is hard and if all the danger is worthwhile, Osborne responded, “It is difficult to have to play the role of the American child sex tourist and have the girls look at you as if you were really a disgusting predator who was going to do wicked things to them.  However, it is all worth it in the end when you have the chance to help pull someone out of the hell in which they are being forced to live.”

Rehabilitation

Once children have been pulled out of this torturous life they were forced to lead, they are rehabilitated with their families or with new families who will take them in and care for them. This is where Jessica Mass, director of Aftercare, comes in. Mass stressed the fact that they vet homes thoroughly before placing a child in one and, once placed, stay connected and help provide therapy, vocational training, funds for college and help meet other needs. Mass said, “We believe in helping restore lives and empowering voices of our little ones to a life of freedom, full of love and vision for their future.”

Working in this field exposes one to some of the greatest evils that happen on planet earth and can bring doubts and pain to rescuers and caregivers. But, according to Mass, it’s all worth it in the end: “I see the journey of healing and lives restored to the purpose God has for them. There is always hope! I believe there’s hope for everyone through the power of the gospel.” She firmly believes that, despite the evils plaguing the world, God has placed OUR in it to make a difference and to help rescue and restore his children.

OUR makes it easy to make a difference in the world. Becoming an Abolitionist is the easiest way for anyone to get involved. By donating at least $5 per month, you can become an Abolitionist and know that your money is going towards freeing children from this sickening exploitation physically and giving them the opportunity to become free spiritually. You can also sign up for updates from OUR to be informed about when they have made a rescue and to better know how to pray for them. OUR will assist anyone who is interested in doing awareness campaigns for human trafficking. Companies can sponsor vocational training programs through OUR, as well. If you purchase anything from their website, www.ourrescue.com, one hundred percent of the proceeds will go right back to furthering their efforts to rescue children. For those unsure of how to help, visit their website, get informed and “spend time asking God what you can do to protect and love His children,” said Mass.

A native-born Miamian, Tami Gomez is a freelance writer for the Good News while she and her husband attend Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina. They hope to become missionaries to the Far East.

Operation Underground Railroad Rescues Children

What YOU Can Do?

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Jon Lines: The Perfect Fit

Jon Lines: The Perfect Fit

By: Lorayne Mitchell

You know that feeling that comes when your eyes catch a glimpse of that elusive puzzle piece? It is the one with the muted hues and no bright colors to place it easily among the others. As we identify it and ultimately locate its perfect spot, we feel a keen sense of not only accomplishment, but also a satisfaction that comes with completing the perfect fit!

That is exactly the feeling that the directors at O.U.R. (and specifically the founder and CEO Tim Ballard) are experiencing. In the ever-changing landscape of an expanding company, new placements are constantly needed. Let me introduce you to the “perfect fit” as the Executive Vice President of Operations – Jon Lines.

Don’t assume this is just an ordinary placement, for it is anything but that. Allow me to share with you the details of Jon’s career summary, his relationship with Tim, and his plans for the future operations of O.U.R. After graduation with honors from Arizona State University in 1992 and a degree in Justice Studies, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service sidetracked Jon from his plans to attend law school.

Major highlights from Jon’s career include:

  • 1992 – Assigned to the Phoenix, Arizona INS office, working in state and nationwide fraud investigations in the naturalization process of aliens
  • 1997 – Recruited to join the Inspector General’s office, spearheading large scale investigation that eventually led to reforming the nation’s naturalization process.
  • 2002 – Was hired for a supervisory position in Ogden, Utah
  • 2003 – Department of Homeland Security was created. This necessitated the merger of INS and US Customs. Appointed as the interim leader of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Office of Investigations for the state of Utah.
  • 2007 – Selected as the Assistant Special Agent in charge of the 4 HSI offices in Utah. Accepted into the Naval Post Graduates School’s Master Degree Program, where he eventually earned his degree in Homeland Security and Defense.

In 2012, an enthusiastic experienced special agent, Tim Ballard, called Jon with a plea and a strong desire to transfer to Utah and work with Jon there. Tim carried with him a special set of skills from his work with child exploitations. Jon held Tim in high regard after watching him in action. Jon remembers vividly, “Tim was a real credit to our office. He had more vision than most other agents I had previously worked with. We began to discuss new and innovative ways to deal with sex trafficking issues both domestically and internationally.”

In 2013 Tim couldn’t shake nagging feelings that he needed to do more to save the children. Jon proved to be a patient sounding board to him. When most others told Tim he was making the wrong decision to walk away from his government job and pension, Jon was one of the few that discussed Tim’s options with him at length, and eventually encouraged him to follow his dream. While Tim was getting O.U.R. off the ground, he kept a watchful eye on Jon’s great success in the Utah offices of Homeland Security. He called Jon several months ago and asked if he would consider coming to work with him at O.U.R. Tim stated, “Bring everything you offered at the DHS office. Come and join our team at O.U.R. I’ve admired your leadership skills, vision, and above all your uncompromising investigational and operative expertise. I need you to apply your unbending expectations of accountability, credibility, and efficiency within our operations. I need your help to ensure that all incoming donations are well spent to save lives and rehabilitate the children exploited around the world.”

Jon shared with me his view on this new assignment, “Tim was a line agent when we worked together before; I was the agent in charge. Now the tables have turned. It’s not about who’s superior here. I would like to continue to build upon the absolutely incredible team that Tim has built. Tim and I respect each other, share the common mission of saving children, and the vision of what can be done with aftercare.” Jon will be on the ground and involved with the missions as much as he possibly can. He will provide leadership to the teams, facilitating their successes from an administrative perspective. Thailand has opened up as very fertile ground for future missions, and it is one of Jon’s main focuses as he begins his assignment with O.U.R.

Jon also realizes the great blessing his family has been, and will always be to him, by sustaining and supporting him with his career, his vision, and his current decision to stand with Tim and work with the team of O.U.R. His wife Kimberly has been by his side for 31 years. He has boys for bookends – Brye is his oldest son, Dutcher the youngest of the group. Daughters Micah and Haley are sandwiched in between. His children have blessed him with 5 beautiful grandchildren: sweet granddaughters Jonnie, Josie and Haddie, and grandsons Knox and Brigg.

Jon closed our interview by sharing with me one of his favorite quotes. Edmund Burke, an Anglo-Irish statesman, penned the following: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

What a perfect mantra for a man that refuses to stand by and watch children be lost, when he has the skills and expertise to make a difference. We will watch with great interest the great blessing he will be to the team of O.U.R. Is there any doubt now that Jon Lines is the PERFECT fit?

Board of Governors: Alberto Puertas

Board of Governors: Alberto Puertas

O.U.R. recently added Mr. Alberto Puertas to their Board of Governors.

Alberto Puertas is a career/academic counselor for the University Advisement Center at Brigham Young University. His responsibilities include: serving as the International Advisement Specialist at BYU; teaching courses in career strategies, career exploration, and effective learning; mentoring students at risk, and assisting the University in promoting career development issues and objectives.

Alberto has a Master of Science in Counseling and Guidance from BYU. He has mentored many college students doing humanitarian work and internships abroad. He has presented workshops and seminars in the United States, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico, Bolivia and Peru. In his presentations and daily work, Alberto Puertas emphasizes the relationship between meaning, spirituality and career development. He also stresses the benefits and challenges globalization presents to vocational guidance in the international arena to this new millennium.

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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!

O.U.R. 2016 Mid-Year Review: An Intimate Talk With Tim Ballard

O.U.R. 2016 Mid-Year Review: An Intimate Talk With Tim Ballard

The following are excerpts from a filmed interview with Tim Ballard on the progress Operation Underground Railroad has made in the first half of 2016.

Tim Ballard:

We have made huge strides this year. The thing I’m most impressed with is that half way through the year we’ve already seen as many or more rescues and arrests as we did last year. We’re probably close to double in terms of the countries we’re working in and the partners that we have.

We have been highly requested here in the States to work in several jurisdictions. We’ve met with several law enforcement officials in various states and set a goal that we would see at least one hundred pedophiles arrested in one year’s time. And just a couple of weeks ago, in the middle of summer we hit that goal. We surpassed it in fact, with over a hundred pedophiles.

These are people that were seeking for children on line as young as nine years old. And we were able to provide the tools to pull these guys out, and inevitably be able to find the children who were actually being abused. So we’re very proud of that accomplishment.

CET-COE:

One of the great accomplishments this year was the announcement of our CET-COE, Child Exploitation Targeting Center of Excellence which is housed at the University of North Carolina, in Charlotte.

We’re actually set up right now to be doing the very unique and different types of operations that we haven’t see a whole lot of yet, using a lot of high-tech strategies to go in and find children who need rescuing and get these horrible, perverted people off the streets.

Technology:

The technology we’re developing is for everybody. In fact, sometimes it’s geared towards law enforcement overseas who just have such limited resources and they don’t have a lot of man power so we can make up for that through tools that allow one cop to do the work of five. And it doesn’t cost them anything.

One reason that we created Operation Underground Railroad is because we saw this need. These law enforcement officers with great hearts, with a desire to help and make their country better, but they had no resources.

O.U.R. Short Term Goals:

We have quite a few operations set for the rest of the year. We’ve already hit our goals, so we’re going to keep pushing, and may exceed expectations. There are multiple countries who have asked us to come in. We’ve already started setting up shop there so we’ll be seeing more operations from now to the end of the year in various places throughout the world.

We’re not meeting our demands though. It’s very difficult for us to sit back and say, ‘Where do we go?’ because we could go almost anywhere now. This is why we need to grow financially. We need more people to become abolitionists because we are not even meeting the demands of law enforcement around the world who need these tools; who need our support.

O.U.R Long Term Goals:

We’ve always talked about setting up offices overseas and we’re starting to do that. These offices are like targeting centers; they’re labs. We are focused on the high technology side to attack this problem. And you’re going to see a lot of more permanent offices in the next several years, offices in various countries that are sponsored in part or fully by Operation Underground Railroad. These offices will be high tech in nature, in terms of the tools that we’re offering, and integrating because with these tools, one police officer can do the work of five officers.

We need to be a force multiplier in this problem. There are way too many kids out there relative to how many police there are looking for them. We built our tools with that in mind. ‘How can we maximize whatever resources are already out there? How can we maximize that?’ Become a force multiplier because with five times the cop power, we rescue five times the kids.

Partnerships:

Our partnerships are mostly focused on the rehabilitation end of things. It’s so important; in fact, it’s the most important thing that we do. We have to have in place something for the rescued children because so often the parents are not suitable or there are no parents or they are part of the problem.

We’ve really recognized that we need to put more into the rehab side and that’s a really delicate thing. We go into these countries that are very developing and we don’t always find the rehab partners that we want, so we have to spend a lot of time building them up.

One country that we are in right now, took us a year to get operational, even though the law enforcement officers in that country were green-lighting the operations. Now, we’re about to do our fourth operation in that particular country because that part (aftercare) is in place.

We hired a new director of rehab, Jessica Mass, who just does an amazing job. She’s partnered with rehab places, facilities, shelters, here in every state in the United States and in every country that we’ve been in, over 15 countries. She has gone and spent a tremendous amount of time finding our partners who we know, that when we have these children, we’re comfortable placing them there.

It’s so rewarding to watch some of these survivors become thrivers. We go back all the time, multiple times a year. ‘How are they doing? What do they need?’ This one wants to be a chef; this one wants to go to college. We can help with that. And we’re watching these stories unfold now. That’s a new development, an exciting development for us.

In 2016, I’d say one of our biggest highlights is the expansion and growth of our aftercare program and the wonderful partners that we’ve been able to make and trust, and watch the kids go there and know they have a chance.

Recruiting:

First and foremost our jump team members have to be brave. I mean, we’re asking them to do very dangerous things. Go into a foreign county. Go in undercover. Walk into a trafficker’s house who would just as soon kill them if they knew who they were.

We seek out law enforcement officers who have experience in rescuing children in anti-trafficking enforcement. It’s so important that these people have the utmost integrity; that they have good hearts. One thing we do, and frankly it’s on purpose, is when we do these tryouts and the training, we ask them to pay for part of that expense of coming over here. And that’s because we want to see who really cares.

I know that every guy that I recruited, especially in the beginning, had to walk away from pensions. They had to walk away from government security. And the fact that they were willing to do that told me that that’s who I want on my team. If you don’t have the heart for this, you’re not going to last long. It’s great to see these people who are willing to fly themselves here and sacrifice financially just to have the chance to make the team.

The Jump Team:

I think very few people are willing to do what our operators do. I mean you sacrifice your innocence in ways that are so incredibly uncomfortable and painful that it’s very rare to find someone to do this.

These kids are in hell. We’ve seen things that you can’t even imagine happen in hell. And the only way to get to those kids is to go in there. You’ve got to be willing go in there and not flinch while you’re there. Anyone willing to do that is just so amazing to me.

It’s like someone willing to run into a burning building. That’s what these guys do every day. It’s a different kind of burning building but it’s no less precarious, no less dreadful and they do it. And I’m so proud to associate with some of these operators that we have working for us – amazing guys – and girls.

Rescues:

It’s imperative to us that our policies on rescue operations are very clear to our partners and donors. We are not a vigilante group. We work with and under the jurisdiction of law enforcement agencies that officially and formally bring us on board. If that doesn’t happen, we don’t operate. But, once we are official we move forward.

Every operation is so different. Our operators will go, usually pretending to be like the other tourists, looking for illicit contact with kids. And then they infiltrate it, and this is where their expertise comes into play in that region; they’ll go in and know how to talk and what to say; how to dig in.

Other times it’s very specific; as specific as, here is this child who’s missing. We can come in with our technology, teach them. We’ve had cases where we look at facial recognition technology that allows us to go in and identify this child that was taken and maybe being sold in a different continent. So it really does vary.

A lot of what we’re doing now though, is targeting pedophiles and traffickers using tools that allow us to exploit places on the Internet where kids are being sold. The dark net is a place where people work with impunity because they think no one’s watching. We’re trying to build tools to help law enforcement to get to those places quicker and more efficiently and understand that world so they can pull these kids out.

Case Story:

In one case, this individual had this child that was being exploited. It was quite a distance from our office and we were expecting to go do the operation the following week. But our operators who are experts on line, were able to identify that this was a problem that couldn’t even wait three days.

And because we have such awesome donors and awesome supporters, they were made aware of the emergency without giving them details. One of our donors said, ‘You need to get somewhere to save kids? Just get to the airport. My plane will be waiting for you.’

I literally left the my kid’s basketball game that I was coaching with nothing, jumped in my car and sped to the airport, got on that plane and had that guy arrested and those kids saved, and those kids placed in safety within 12 to 15 hours. That was an emotional case just because we knew we had to get there fast. But, this is where we have the kind of comparative advantage where we can just go.

The whole flight over I have her image in my head. Five years old and we were able to get to her and pull her out of that situation and that guy’s in jail right now.

The Danger For Children

It’s usually men, perverted men have access to children in various ways; sometimes their own children or a niece or a nephew. They take advantage of the situation where the parents are out of the picture for some reason and they take this child under their wing, so-to-speak, but really they’re grooming them and exploiting them.

They go on line and start selling, sometimes they want to exchange this child for someone else’s child and they want to set up these horrific dark escapades. All I can say is that we have the tools and the ability to have law enforcement intervene in those deals. To find out where they’re happening and when they’re happening, intervene, intercept the deal, and then infiltrate and dismantle.

Eradicating Child Sex Trafficking:

That’s still the goal. We know that it can work. It works on a small scale. We go into one city, do several operations, and we shut it down. At the end of our operations, we can’t find anyone who’s willing to sell kids, all of them citing the previous operations that we previously conducted.

If it works on a small scale, why can’t it work on a large sale? We just need more people, more organizations, and more governments on board. If we made the response to selling kids for sex so powerful, you could literally scare people from thinking about doing it. That’s our goal.

I do believe that we can eradicate this. It’s going to take a long time, but with enough support and enough growth, we are building the tools that can eradicate this.

What You Can Do:

We need your help to make a difference. If you haven’t donated to our cause, please visit our web site at OURrescue.org and start today. Every dollar helps rescue children and ensures they receive the recovery care they need. If you already donate, please take the opportunity to evaluate if you can give more. We’ve already completed more rescues to date in 2016 than we did in all of 2015. We need your support to continue at this pace and fund additional rescue operations. We can’t do it without you. Thank you!

Interviewed and Edited by: Cheryl L. Karr

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

 

O.U.R. attends FBI Training in Thailand

O.U.R. attends FBI Training in Thailand

Last month in Thailand, O.U.R. was invited by the FBI to participate in their Responding to Victims of Human Trafficking training, put on by the FBI’s Office of Victims Assistance. The goal of this training is to set a standard across the board in which governments, local police, NGOs and social workers can operate on victim centered investigations and victim identification. But what does this mean? In almost every case of the trafficking of minors, the underage victims are coached by their captors to lie about their age, the fact that they are being coerced into this work, and to lie about where they come from. They are even given fake Identification documents with different names, ages, and purpose of work. Often, the victims are told that Westerners will sell them for body parts or various other gruesome acts, leaving the victims too scared to ask for help or trust someone offering help. The captors do this because they know that many NGOs such as O.U.R. are looking for the minors in order to set them free. By instilling fear of the very people that want to help, the captor exercises more control and dominance over the victim. For these reasons, a training program aimed to identify a victim is extremely important because in many raids, the information given by the coached victims would lead one to believe that they are there by choice, not that they are in fact scared, hurt, and enslaved. It is crucial to set up a system in which investigators, police, and social workers can use their own training and knowledge to identify a victim, even if it is contrary to what the victim is actually saying. This helps ensure that no slave is left behind or overlooked simply because they were perceived to be there by their own volition.

The FBI training in Thailand focuses on victim recognition by basing investigations around the victims needs. This is done by learning different methods of interviewing in which the interviewer is sensitive to the traumatization of the victim and comes from a place of understanding the circumstances and backgrounds of sexually trafficked minors. Another goal of the FBI training is to work with foreign and local governments to combat trafficking. Rather than have many groups that attempt to combat trafficking on their own, this training is designed to bring local and foreign governments, NGOs, social workers, and police forces together to create a standard under which all parties operate. O.U.R.’s Director of Regional Operations says, “It is important for O.U.R. to be in attendance of these trainings. One, it maintains a healthy relationship between us and the U.S. government, and two, it helps us network and connect with trusted local law enforcement, passionate about the same cause.”

The ultimate goal now for O.U.R. is to continue participating in such trainings with the FBI and to bring this type of collaborative, victim focused training to countries in which O.U.R. is currently operating but does not yet exist.

The problem of human trafficking becomes larger and more widespread by the day and we must come together, strong and unified, to save those in need.

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.”

The Reality of Going Undercover

The Reality of Going Undercover

Note: This below takes you to the scene when the author went undercover with Operation Underground Railroad. All the names except the author’s have been changed to protect the effectiveness of future operations. 

Who am I?

That’s what I’m sure they are wondering. At this moment, I’m wondering the same thing. I’m about to meet three men who traffick children as sex slaves. They are bringing their captive girls to what they think is a sex party.

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