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

O.U.R. Team Spotlight: Matt Osborne

O.U.R. Team Spotlight: Matt Osborne

Matt Osborne is a real life hero; the kind that stories are written about and the kind that you cannot forget. Brave, driven, focused and committed, Matt continues to blaze a trail in the fight against modern day slavery.

As Senior Vice President for Rescue and Rehabilitation at Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.), Matt rescues and ensures rehabilitation for children trafficked and sold into sexual slavery in the U.S. and around the world. Since joining O.U.R., Matt has led a number of rescue operations that have resulted in the liberation of some 120 trafficking victims and the arrest of almost 40 suspected traffickers.

Matt’s commitment and passion for guarding others from harm became clear after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Matt felt strongly about protecting his country and began working in national security, a decision that led to a twelve-year career with the CIA and later the Department of State. During that time, Matt worked with issues of terrorism against the U.S., chemical and biological proliferation and the war in Iraq, and ensuing insurgency and political transition after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

An important aspect of Matt’s work for the federal government was providing classified information to U.S. Presidents, senior cabinet officials and the National Security Council. He served overseas tours as a Foreign Service Officer in places such as Spain, Mexico and Venezuela, focusing on issues of terrorism, counter narcotics, and human trafficking. During these tours, Matt organized visits for high profile government officials such as President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He also worked on the Department of State’s Trafficking in Person’s (TIP) Report, which further opened his eyes to this terrible crime.

Matt first met O.U.R. founder Tim Ballard back in 2000 at the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS), both as graduate students and Research Assistants at MIIS’s Center for Nonproliferation Studies. They remained in contact over the years, and when Tim started O.U.R. in late 2013, he strongly encouraged Matt to join the fight against child exploitation and human trafficking. Matt was impressed by how quickly O.U.R. was progressing. He could see Tim’s passion and commitment, and had also seen the caliber of his work in his role with the federal government. Ultimately, it was the cause of fighting for innocent children that won Matt’s heart and allegiance.

Matt joined O.U.R. in August of 2014 and the vision became clear: the O.U.R. jump team could be what he calls a “force multiplier.” Matt felt that those in the U.S. government and in select countries around the world were doing exemplary work saving kids, but with more resources from O.U.R., these officials could simply do more to fight child exploitation.

Matt had enjoyed both serving his country and traveling the world in a government career, which had availed him many opportunities and privileges such as meeting presidents, prime ministers, kings, princes, and other high profile officials. In leaving the CIA and U.S. Department of State, Matt made the considerable sacrifice of giving up his U.S. government pension, health care, and stable salary in order to fight for the O.U.R. cause. A family man, Matt was grateful that the move to O.U.R. allowed him to move back to Texas with his family. The calling of defending the defenseless had been a continued drive for Matt, and it has now become something to stand up for beyond his own need for professional comfort and security.

In an interview with Matt in late July 2016, he recounted his first days as a jump team member and how things have grown at O.U.R. since the start. He said that initially, O.U.R. needed to reach out to countries to request the opportunity to work with them, and then raise the money to allow the work to be done. Funds raised at that time were just enough for one rescue, and then the process would begin again to find another willing country and raise more money to rescue and rehabilitate. Now, as Matt reports, funding for rescues has increased significantly, and more countries than ever are seeking out the help of O.U.R., causing the number of countries and jump team members hired to lead rescues—and most importantly the number of children saved—to increase as well. The O.U.R. team is getting ever more skillful about how they are building and fundraising, and they are now leaner and able to do more work with less money. What’s more, the individuals joining the jump team are arriving already incredibly skilled.

When asked about O.U.R.’s potential in the near future, Matt says that the focus will be to continue to expand rescue work with partners in the U.S. and overseas. O.U.R. had first concentrated on foreign rescue missions due to the need. However, with more advanced technology, the O.U.R. team has what Matt calls a “comparative advantage,” putting the organization in a position to be even more successful in mission support at home and abroad.

Matt is a native of Dallas, Texas and holds a B.A. in International Studies from Miami University in Oxford, OH, and a M.A. in International Policy Studies from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California. He is married and has two daughters, who he says give him the drive to fight child exploitation and human trafficking every day.

Matt says he feels blessed to be helping kids, and that there is simply no higher cause.

5 Ways You Can Help Fight Human Trafficking With #Freedom4All

5 Ways You Can Help Fight Human Trafficking With #Freedom4All

#Freedom4All is a campaign Operation Underground Railroad runs every summer until July 4th to increase awareness of modern day slavery and our fight for freedom worldwide.

“July is a time that we reflect on independence and freedom; it is a time that we remember the high price our forefathers paid for our liberty. The #Freedom4All campaign was born to remind us that, although we enjoy unparalleled freedom, over two million children in the world are trapped in sexual slavery. O.U.R’s primary purpose is to rescue and rehabilitate these innocent children,” says O.U.R. Founder and CEO Tim Ballard.

So without further ado, here are the five ways you can help us spread awareness of human trafficking and fight for #Freedom4All!

1. Show It on Social Media!

This is the fastest and easiest way to show your support! For Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, show your support with our Freedom 4 All images.  This will give your followers a chance to learn about human trafficking and further inspire them to do something about it.

For Facebook, we will have a custom #Freedom4All frame to use with your profile picture – coming soon!

For Twitter and Instagram, we have custom #Freedom4All images just for this campaign for you to post. Check them out here. Make sure to repost, retweet, and SHARE from all of our social media channels @ourrescue and use #Freedom4All to spread the word!

 

2. Sign Up for Thunderclap!

There is a LOT of noise when it comes to posting on social media, so it’s not always easy to ensure our message of freedom is heard. By signing up for Thunderclap, you allow us to share a single message “flash mob-style” on your page.

Last year 518 people signed up for Thunderclap, reaching 720,978 people, meaning 720,978 people heard our message of freedom! This year our goal is to reach at least 1,000 Thunderclap sign-ups! Will you help us reach our goal? Sign up here.

3. Sport the Movement!

There are more ways to spread awareness outside of social media. O.U.R.’s custom #Freedom4All shirt definitely has a patriotic vibe, making it an ideal choice for your 4th of July festivities and will surely pique the curiosity of those around you. It’s an easy conversation-starter to help you share our mission of rescuing children from human trafficking. 100% of your purchase will be donated to the cause. Click here to purchase.

4. Don’t Miss Our #Freedom4All 2017: Message of Freedom!

O.U.R. founder and CEO, Tim Ballard, will be giving a special address on fighting for freedom. His words will inspire you and to those you share. Check out the motivational address he gave for the 2015 #Freedom4All Campaign:

“Slavery does exist today and its tentacles reach further and deeper than most of us realize, with its victims barely surviving in unthinkable darkness. The #Freedom4All campaign is a movement that will shine a light into this darkness and provide a way for each of us to eradicate this evil.”

5. Donate For Freedom!

Everything O.U.R. does to rescue and rehabilitate children is only possible through your donations. Although steps 1-4 help spread awareness, funding is what makes rescue operations possible. You can either donate once, or you can sign up to Be An Abolitionist and donate as little as $5 every month. $5 seems like a small chunk of change, over 6,000 Abolitionists contribute to over 40% of all operational costs. Click here to become an Abolitionist today!

 

Thank you for spreading the message of freedom this summer!

 

ABOUT OPERATION UNDERGROUND RAILROAD: Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.) is a non-profit organization that rescues kidnapped children from slavery. O.U.R. rescue teams (called “Jump Teams”) are comprised of highly skilled ex-Navy Seal’s, CIA and other operatives. These teams work in conjunction with and in full cooperation with local police forces and foreign governments to liberate children around the world.

The original Underground Railroad was a network that existed in nineteenth century America to liberate African slaves. Today, slavery has a new face: the face of an innocent child. Slavery’s victims today include nearly two million precious children throughout the world. They are slaves, exploited for sex.

The symbol of the Underground Railroad shines through the darkness that surrounds these poor children and offers hope and freedom to children that are abused daily. Thousands of these children are imported every year from third world countries to developed countries, such as the United States and Canada. Operation Underground Railroad can rescue and save them from the horrors of slavery. This is its mission!

O.U.R. rescues these children and delivers them to safe havens that offer freedom and rehabilitation. In the process, O.U.R. expert rescue teams break the avaricious organizations that exploit these children and deliver the perpetrators to justice and jail. Using cutting-edge computer technology and human intelligence, O.U.R. rescue teams go into the darkest corners of the world to help local law enforcement liberate enslaved children and dismantle the criminal networks. www.ourrescue.org #freedom4all

 

 

STRENGTH IN PRAYERS, GOOD THOUGHTS, AND LOVE

STRENGTH IN PRAYERS, GOOD THOUGHTS, AND LOVE

It is no secret that several members of the Operation Underground Railroad team are spiritual in their own ways. Many of our operators pray together while out on a rescue operation, while others choose to meditate or worship in their own way. Some of our Aftercare homes also have a religious base and will often send us prayer requests depending on their needs at that time.

Because of that, we welcome your prayers, positive thoughts, or energy to strengthen our various efforts- from success in our rescue operations, to health and a better future for our teenage survivors and their babies.

We are creating a specific list for those who would like to join!

Let’s stand together with our operators, Aftercare homes and survivors in this battle to lift them up in prayer, thoughts and most of all in love.

By signing up for this list, we will inform you of prayer requests from our Operators or Aftercare specialists who are facing unique challenges.

Subscribe by texting “OURPRAYERS” to 51555, or enter your contact information below.

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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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Want to become an Abolitionist? Sign up here.

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