Blogger Trip June 2014

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June 16th – 23rd of 2014 The Exodus Road will be hosting several influential bloggers on an exposure trip to SE Asia. These women will witness firsthand the realities of human trafficking and how The Exodus Road coalition is strategically fighting this injustice. They will meet undercover investigators, interview national police, tour after care facilities and red light districts, and see actual case files of sex slavery.

It won’t be your typical blogger exposure trip. And you are going to want to follow along to hear their stories from the front lines. Be sure to watch for #ExodusRoad on social media. You can also connect with the following writers or staff members individually (twitter handles below) or with The Exodus Road’s organization on twitter (@theExodusRoad), facebook (The Exodus Road), or instagram (The Exodus Road).

Jamie Wright (@Jamiethevwm)  |  Heather Armstrong (@dooce)  |  Roo Ciambriello (@roociambriello)  |  Kristen Howerton (@kristenhowerton)

Matt Parker (@MattParker_er)  |  Laura Parker (@MrsLauraParker)

You can learn more about The Exodus Road’s work and organization, along with viewing covert footage, by visiting our About Page.

Unless otherwise noted, the following photos were taken by the talented Heather Armstrong.

Bloggers’ campaign to fuel collectively 200 Nights of Rescue can be found HERE.

 

Posts 

Kristen Howerton: This Independence Day, Help Bring Freedom to Those That Need It  

Before we set out that evening with Delta team, we met to go over some case files and to have a briefing on the evening’s investigation. The Delta team runs like a well-oiled military machine and they take everything very seriously – down to the briefings and de-briefings. Their case files are painstaking detailed, and in each investigation nothing is left to chance, even if it means rehearsing or rehashing each investigation. In fact, that was one of the things the team wanted us to see . . . that this work isn’t all raids and rescues. That this work is sometimes tedious and unglamorous . . . that it requires time and patience and vigilance and commitment. 

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Kristen Howerton: What After Care Looks Like for Victims of Sex-Trafficking 

Investigations are at the heart of what Exodus Road does. It is the way they help both rescue victims of sexual trafficking as well as prosecute the people who are trafficking women and children. But through the Liberty Alliance formed by Matt Parker, Exodus Road’s founder, {along with Freeland and Liberty Asia} the organization is also able to help children with rehabilitation through partnerships with key after-care facilities. On our trip we were able to visit two such facilities. . . 

It was beyond disturbing to confront the horrifying reality of the child sex trade, but it was also a comfort to know that there are people fighting to combat it, and to restore the victims. I love that Liberty Alliance is looking at this problem from all sides.

 

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Heather Armstrong: Independence 

Robert and his colleagues are acutely aware of the Sisyphean task in front of them, and yet, they continue to roll that boulder up the hill. 

They continue to sit in dark cars with cameras and binoculars, continue to enter brothels and back alleys to collect information from girls they know are underage, girls they will knowingly and tragically leave behind until they can make a case, continue to put themselves in grave danger because tonight or tomorrow night or some night next month may be the night they get the recording or the testimony or that one missing piece that can trigger a successful raid. For one or two girls. If they’re lucky, maybe even a dozen.

One or two girls here, a few there. One or two worlds changed, a few worlds changed over there.

Statistics be damned. One human life matters.

 

Jamie Wright: Taking a (Photo) Dump

So, right now I’m taking a break from writing real words for a second to partake in one of the most powerful forms of media we have at our fingertips today; The iPhone photo dump. They used to say ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, now they say ‘pics or it didn’t happen’. Both of those statements are really unfortunate for people like me, who’s pictures only say a few words, like, “I can’t tell what this is.”, or “Why am I looking at this?”, or simply, “Huh?”
 
Prepare to have your mind blown by my keen eye and skilled thumb.

 

Roo Ciambriello: Bright Lights and Brothels

Andrew asks where May is. She pauses, looks up at the ceiling and thinks, then calls another mamasan over.

“Do you mean number 26?”

I seethe. They know their girls by their numbers, not their names. The identifying numbers that makes ordering a girl for the evening as casual and aloof as ordering the double cheeseburger meal at a drive-thru.

May’s not here. Neither is Cam. It’s my last night in Svay Pak and my disappointment is palpable.

“I’m sorry,” Andrew says, and I feel a little foolish. He and Matt and all of the other investigators deal with this sort of heartache every day, and I’m flitting in and out of their city, with my questions and emotions and possibly petty demands. But every girl I meet has a story. Every girl takes up space in my heart and my mind. Every girl makes me want to break down doors and give them better.

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Roo Ciambriello: Stop Human Trafficking {Fifty to Fight Trafficking}

We weren’t paid, we weren’t asked to write, but we were invited to come see the work they’re doing. We went, we saw, and we fell hard for the Exodus Road team and all of the good work they do. You guys have been so kind, following along and offering your support, and the repeated question has been how do we help?

 

Jamie Wright: A million ways to say it wrong

Let me just say this out loud; No one wants the trip we “survived” to matter in tangible ways more than we do.

No one wants to share about the things we witnessed while preserving the privacy and dignity of the victims we saw more than we do.

No one wants to help you feel a deep connection to the good work happening in the world more than we do.

And no one is more afraid of saying it all wrong than we are. No one.

 

Heather Armstong: Some initial thoughts from a travel-addled brain

“Can you ask her what she would love to do with her life if she didn’t have to work here? Would that make sense?”

He didn’t answer me and instead turned to her with a look of curiosity and began speaking in her native tongue. When he was done, she sat there for a very long time in complete silence. I didn’t know if it was because she had never been asked that question, never been given the chance to consider something else. Then she bit her lip in what I think is a universally spoken way of trying to dam up an emotion you might not want someone else to see.

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Roo Ciambriello: DELICATE / BRUTAL 

“It’s hard to get people to go into brothels to do the undercover investigative work,” Matt said while we all shared a meal. “They don’t want to go into brothels and see nudity and be propositioned because that’s not what good people do. But good people need to go where bad people go to make a difference.”

And so that’s where I am. I’m asking you good people to go with me into stories about what bad people do so we can make a difference.

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Heather Armstrong: Oh, No, Dooce Found Jesus

Aftercare is the less glamourous, less thrilling side of search and rescue. There are no car chases or raids or undercover operations. There’s no high-tech equipment or close calls or covert photography. In fact, there’s a lot of boring administrative work, forms to fill out, permits to file. But its importance in the overall fight against human trafficking is just as vital. In fact, its importance cannot be overstated. What happens to the girl who can’t return home because her mother was the one who sold her into slavery? What happens to the boy who was sold by his father into child pornography at the age of seven? What happens to the girl who has no education and whose only job opportunity is the commercial sex trade?

 

Kristen Howerton: What I Learned About Sex Trafficking From an Evening with Two Prostitutes 

“You are the lucky ones” Sai says, motioning to us through tears. “You have an education. You get to go to work and be with your kids. That is all we want. But we cannot raise our kids doing the other jobs. We won’t make enough money. We can’t leave this work.”

In that room, I think we all felt an overwhelming sense of empathy and connection. I fought the urge to try to fix things, and instead to just sit with them and empathize and listen. We reiterated that we felt it was not fair that such disparities exist based on where we were born. They seemed relieved to hear us acknowledge that. I think we all sat in that room feeling that we are so much alike. I couldn’t help thinking that it is women who really need to rise up and help one another. These girls are our sisters, born into different circumstances, and doing what they need to do to survive.

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Kristen Howerton: The difference between sex trafficking and sex tourism

These clubs were startling. My only exposure to strip clubs has been in movies or tv (hello every HBO show ever), but this was quite different. The stages were crowded and there was little emphasis on performing or dancing. Most of the girls seemed distant and bored as they stood on the stage. The audience was predominantly male, though we were not the only women and our presence did not seem unusual. Seeing all of the girls on the stage wearing numbers conjured up imagery of a slave auction. It seemed so dehumanizing.

 

Heather Armstrong: Khru Ja

I met a man’s who’s spirit makes me reconsider the existence of God. I’ve so much to say about this gregarious and phenomenally generous man who runs an Anti-Human Trafficking and Child Abuse Center. We spent three hours yesterday afternoon talking with him and learning about his facility, and then listened as he talked to us and showed us photos of hundreds of cases he has worked to arrest and prosecute pedophiles. Some of what I saw I will not ever be able to un-see. If only all of our children be safe and loved and free from the fear of that kind of horror.

Photo Credit: Heather Armstrong

Photo Credit: Heather Armstrong

Heather Armstrong: Meet The Exodus Road

When asked why he does this work one of these operatives gave an almost sheepish shrug. He said no one would ever know his name or recognize his face or have any idea about the hours he has spent toiling away on case file after case file, especially the people whose lives have been freed by those selfless hours. And he prefers it that way, prefers the satisfaction of knowing that he is helping return slaves to their homes and families over any type of recognition or personal promotion or pat on the back.

 

Heather Armstrong: Through the haze of jet lag

I will say this: having watched an undercover video earlier today, I’m just a little wary of what I might see in person. I know I’m an adult and can handle these things, I just hope I’m prepared

 

Kristen Howerton: What Modern Day Heroes Look Like 

Another investigator said something that was really profound for me:

“Our hope is to return girls to their family. That’s the place where they should be.”

Yes. Family preservation. This is why the cause resonates with me. I so desperately want to see children in families, and Exodus Road is restoring that for girls who have been taken under false pretense. Of course, these issues are complicated. In a later post I’m hoping to address how and why girls are trafficked, and also to talk a bit about the difference between trafficking and the commercial sex trade.

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Laura Parker: But What About Trafficking in the U.S.? 

Some people have asked us why we host blogger or donor trips to SE Asia to observe human trafficking, since slavery happens right on American soil. Wouldn’t it save money? Wouldn’t it help “our” people more to just stay home?

My answer to that is simple: while the mechanisms of trafficking are the same in every country, it’s much easier to realistically observe and learn about it in places where it is most rampant– places like here in Asia, where such a large percentage of the world’s modern slaves walk the streets (or aren’t allowed to walk the streets). Since we as an organization are still developing our U.S. initiative particularly, we simply don’t have the infrastructure to effectively teach and demonstrate real cases of trafficking in America. Here, in Asia, we do.

 

Jamie Wright: 700 Words or Less

The first time I wrote about human-trafficking, someone told me he would never read my blog again.

He didn’t think I’d done a good job telling the whole story, and, to be fair, he was kind of right. I wrote truthfully about little girls in aftercare facilities and young women dancing on my table, but only vaguely alluded to the war, greed, and politics that propel the victimization and impoverishment of many in South East Asia. I avoided those complexities in favor of telling the stories I felt like I’d had a small part in.

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Roo Ciambriello: These Things Are Not Easy

I don’t want to write poverty porn with a link-baiting title.

There’s a way to do this effectively, with dignity and grace. There’s a way to raise awareness or call attention to a concern without posting my bra color as my Facebook status or writing sensational titles fit for an Upworthy article. Four bloggers went to a brothel in SE Asia, and you won’t believe what happened next! There’s a way to make a real, tangible difference in the lives of many.

I hope I don’t let you down. I’ve sweated over this post, to be honest. This website is full of stick figures and GIFs and pop culture references, and then somehow now we’re also talking about social justice. I’m inconsistent. But, I feel like everything I do on this blog serves some sort of good. If it makes you laugh or shares an experience or teaches you something or even entertains you for five minutes, I think those are good things. If I can use this space to raise awareness about some real evils going on in this world, I want to. With dignity and grace and sensitivity. This isn’t a game. I want to do it right. 

Stay with me (please).

 

Jamie Wright: Blogger Trip Make Dollars (& Sense)

Essentially, as storytellers working on behalf of non-profits, we need your patience and we need your help as we learn to do it better. We don’t always hit the mark, but I believe every one of us desires to share our stories with wisdom, care, and integrity, and to make them matter to the organizations we’re serving with them.

 

Kristen Howerton: Are Blogger Trips an Example of Poverty Tourism?

A few key differences between blogger trips and mission trips:

1. They are a marketing trip, not a service trip.

2. They are usually funded by the organization’s marketing budget

3. The purpose is to use a blogger’s particular set of skills (namely, storytelling, connecting with an audience, and inspiring people into action) to benefit the organization in long-term ways.

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Heather Armstrong: I Have Words

First, I don’t know the first thing about this issue. I know I already said so, but it bears repeating. Two, while the Exodus Road is not explicitly a Christian organization, its founders are motivated and guided by their devout Christian values. And here is where I will say something that I have never said on this website before:

I am an atheist. I do not believe in God.

I’m sure that does not come as any surprise, but I haven’t ever written those words because I didn’t think it needed to be articulated with that kind of detail.

But here right now, I think it does. This organization that is informed by Christian beliefs is so dedicated to ending the nightmares of so many innocent girls and boys that they would associate with me, an atheist—an often crass, irreverent, “Mormons like to sacrifice kittens” atheist—in order to move the fight forward. And when I say “associate” I mean use me as a means to raise awareness. I am a marketing tool. I have no illusions that I woud be doing anything other than that.

 

Jamie Wright: Three Tangible Ways to Stop Sex-Trafficking in the U.S. 

We can’t go on pretending the addiction which drives so much of the porn and sex industry is not also a major factor in the business of sex-trafficking. There are so many people around us who are utterly destroyed by sex-addiction, engulfed in hopelessness, yet, we sit silent. We are too embarrassed to bring it up, too ashamed to talk about it, too stigmatized to reach out to each other, so we suffocate in our secrets because the risk is too great, the consequences are too dire, and the Church is too damn quiet about it all. That’s just not right, and I’m sorry.

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Roo Ciambriello: Privileged Sort-Of White Woman

 But I understand why – after both trips were announced – that we would be called privileged white women. Because we are.

I mean, I sort-of am.

But I’m a privileged sort-of white woman going with a purpose. I would not leave my family, put a pause on work, and give up potential income to fly across the world to gawk at prostitutes for my own entertainment and self-aggrandizement and then do absolutely nothing about it. That would be abhorrent.

 

Kristen Howerton: The Trip I Didn’t Want to Take, to Tell the Stories You May Not Want to Hear

But in truth, I think my desire to avoid this topic is why there is so little being done for the victims. It’s a difficult subject to broach, and our sense of justice and empathy can get the best of us because it’s so hard to fathom that our brain just sort of shuts down. It’s a shadowy reality of our world, and it’s far too convenient to brush off as something Other or Elsewhere. I’ve been blogging about social justice issues for years. Why would I not want to talk about this issue?

Blogger Team Lead 

 

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Jamie Wright  |  @JamietheVWM

Blog: TheVeryWorstMissionary.com  

 

Bloggers 

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Heather Armstrong  |  @Dooce

Blog: Dooce.com

 

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Roo Ciambriello  |  @RooCiambriello

Blog: SEMIPROPER.com 

 

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Kristen Howerton | @KristenHowerton

Blog: RageAgainstTheMinivan.com 

 

 

 

Exodus Road Staff Leaders 

Matt Parker, Founder/CEO  |  @MattParker_er

Laura Parker, Vice President Communications  |  @MrsLauraParker

 

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