blog

I didn’t fully understand the scope of trafficking and child exploitation when I arrived in Thailand. Having grown up in a pretty sheltered part of the world, my experience with human trafficking has been limited to several viewings of the 2008 blockbuster “Taken” and the various stories of investigations, rescues, and survival that float into my cube at The Exodus Road offices.

Thats why, when approached by an eight year old boy selling roses on a dingy street in southern Thailand, I bought one for my wife. “Let’s arm wrestle. The loser has to buy a rose for your girlfriend,” he said, extending a tiny arm onto the table of the bar I was sitting at.

One of our investigators leaned in, fresh off my loss, “You see those two guys over there? Those are his handlers. They send him into the street and take all the money he makes. Just watch.”

And sure enough, three arm wrestles later, the boy marched over to the men standing in the shadows and handed them the money.

An estimated 20,000 to 25,000 homeless children wander the streets of Thailand, “the majority of these children have been trafficked, endured crimes of pedophilia or other physical and emotional abuse” (Human Health Network). UNICEF Child Protection Officer Sirirath Chunnasart notes that “children who live or work on the streets are at great risk of violence, abuse, exploitation, drugs and HIV. They often have little or no access to health, education or other social services.”

ja

That’s where Khru Ja comes in. The Exodus Road and Khru Ja began partnership in 2012. Khru Ja, an expressive, joy-filled man, runs a safe home for the once trafficked and displaced children in southern Thailand. The home, refuge to 38 children (12 girls, 26 boys) helps children that have been victims of any number of horrors to reenter society poised for success. Khru Ja, formerly a street child himself, was given a chance to receive an education and as a result has spent his life offering the same opportunity to children. Reflecting on the value of his education Ja notes, “It was generosity that saved my life, the least I can do is offer the same opportunity.”

The safe house, a near self-sustaining facility, features a vegetable garden, chicken coop, basketball court, soccer field, and five apartment style homes for the children to live in. A staff of six provides ongoing care to the children and maintenance of the property. Once at the home, children are provided with the educational tools and emotional support to begin the process of restoration. The project is entirely led by nationals.

shoes

shirts

In addition to providing a safe home to children in Thailand, Khru Ja works with local authorities to identify perpetrators of human trafficking and sexual abuse throughout the country. In his career he has worked on an estimated 350 western pedophile cases and 150 Thai sexual abuse cases. In the words of The Exodus Road Team, “Ja is a doer, he gets things done.” Ja has been working in this field for over 25 years and his kindness, laughter, and generosity are striking. When asked about his work, Ja, smiling from ear to ear declares, “I have been working for many years on the streets of Thailand. You see so many boys, girls… children, walking around, abused, neglected, forgotten. This place is a part of changing that.”Ja was recently one of twelve recipients for a governmental nationwide award given annually to recognize notable leaders in the field of counter-trafficking.

The Exodus Road Team of investigators and partnering police are key investigative partners of Khru Ja and work with him on a regular basis. In addition to investigative support and networking case management, The Exodus Road has given a motorcycle to Khru Ja’s team and has provided internet services for his facility. The Exodus Road is currently working on providing school fees for some of the children at the home.

sleep with me
The Exodus Road is partnering with investigative teams throughout the world to fuel literal rescue with local police. We are sending trained investigators out to find and free sex slaves (nearly 300 so far), and you can help.
With your monthly donation, you’ll be joining an actual Search and Rescue team on the frontlines. Your gift of $35 will cover the expenses of one night of local investigations. You may not be able to go look for sex slaves, but you can send someone out on your behalf who can.
By joining, you’ll also receive a welcome packet in the mail, real-time updates via email or texts, and even covert footage of your team’s progress as they bring freedom to the modern day slave. JOIN A TEAM TODAY:  
Donate_Horz_Gold
Sponsorship is $35/monthly. Funds cover investigative expenses for field teams. All donations are tax-deductible through The Exodus Road, a registered 501c3.
Need more info? Check out our different Search and Rescue Teams HERE or read our FAQ page HERE. You can also watch covert footage from a recent raid HERE

phone to investigator

We’ve been recently asked by a field partner for smartphones to be used in their investigations. And we thought you, as our community here, could help us. Here are the details:

Looking For: Gently used but quality i-Phone 4′s or later models. The phone must have the ability to accept a SIM card. We need all the charging cables, if possible, as well. We’d like the phones to be wiped clean of personal information, loaded apps, etc.  as well.

What We’re Not Looking For: Phones without the ability to be take a SIM card. Damaged, cracked, or unworking phones. We are not looking for smartphones that are not i-Phones (Androids, etc.) because of the desire to provide a consistent tool and the specific capabilities of i-Phones.

Why: I-Phones are quickly becoming key field tools for investigators. The team can use them for gps tracking, quick research, translation help, communications amongst each other and others, and gathering video and photo evidence. We are looking to supply a team of ten investigators (all nationals, all working directly with/for the local police) with reliable phones.

How to Donate: Mail the gently used phone to our home office, and we will deliver them to the field. Mail to:

The Exodus Road

PO Box 1681

Colorado Springs, CO 80901  

 

This initiative is a practical way for our community to meet a tangible need for the front lines. As you upgrade your i-Phone, please keep our supported investigators in mind. We’re hoping to supply the team of ten with phones by the end of August 2014, but we have other partners who could utilize these phones, as well. Should we get more phones donated or receive items later than August, we will still be gifting them to investigative partners.

 

 

Need a receipt? If you’d like a donation receipt for your phone, email our Finance Director at Tammy@theExodusRoad.com to request one.

police and ngo partner col omsin

In June of 2014, the annual Trafficking in Persons report downgraded Thailand from a Tier 2-Watchlist Country, or a country where governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, to a Tier 3 Country, a country whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so. The downgrade to a Tier 3 status, the lowest rating, has been designated to 24 countries and represents a significant call to action for the nation of Thailand.

“Overall antitrafficking law enforcement efforts remained insufficient compared with the size of the problem in Thailand, and corruption at all levels hampered the success of these efforts,” the report said. Referring to nongovernmental organizations, it added, “Despite frequent media and NGO reports documenting instances of forced labor and debt bondage among foreign migrants in Thailand’s commercial sectors — including the fishing industry — the government demonstrated few efforts to address these trafficking crimes.” (New York Times) Thailand is currently debating the downgrade.

In spite of the drop in designation, and the range of human trafficking throughout the nation, The Exodus Road law enforcement partner Lt. Colonel Omsin remains committed to the protection of victims of human trafficking.

The Exodus Road and Lt. Colonel Omsin (pictured above with Exodus Road Founder, Matt Parker) began partnering in October of 2013 with DELTA team investigators, when they met at the regional conference The Exodus Road sponsored in Southern Thailand. Since then, The Exodus Road (DELTA Team) has worked with Lt. Colonel Omsin to provide space for intentional networking between organizations, investigative resources and man hours, and covert gear. In a recent meeting with Lt. Colonel Omsin he noted:

“At the beginning, I thought, this can not work. The NGO cannot help us. But now, I see that it can.”

Omsin has been in the police force for seven years and works with 7-8 staff members who assist him. His unit primarily focuses on capturing pedophiles and traffickers, and he has worked an estimated 150 cases in his career. He is in close communication with DELTA investigators on a regular basis and calls them to help gather evidence involving crimes against children.

Omsin works with his own team of national police, DELTA investigators, and another close partner, Khru Ja, who runs an after care facility in the  area and works with street children. Together, they are proving a model of effective collaboration between the NGO and the national police force, and we are honored to be a small part of their noble work.

 

red light bloggers

We were honored to host four popular bloggers on a trip to SE Asia in June. They met investigators, toured after care facilities, shook hands with experts, interviewed trafficked victims, walked red-light districts, and even observed a real undercover operation.

And they’ve candidly shared their stories online at their personal blogs.

If you ever wanted to visit the field, here’s your (virtual) chance. Take some time to read over their journeys by visiting this page HERE.

photo cred. Heather Armstrong

Freedom Weekend

Sam Stephenson —  June 22, 2014

In May of 2014, The Exodus Road and local partners hosted a two day Freedom Weekend event in Colorado Springs.

On Friday night Jack Quinn’s, a local pub, and Jamie The Very Worst Missionary welcomed over 150 guests for a time of shared stories, experiences, and a question and answer session.

IMG-32 IMG-69

*Photo Credit Cassidy Brooke Photography

On Saturday night, Ivywild School (shout out to Events Coordinator Nikki Lee) catered to 100 Colorado Springs residents as Matt Parker, President of The Exodus Road, shared his vision for rescuing victims of sexual slavery. The event at Ivywild School, sponsored by local partners Bristol Brewing Company, Bluestar Group, Lewis Roca Rothgerber LLP, Mission Trip Insurance, New Life DOWNTOWN, Discovery Church, Jim and Martha Cole (residents of Colorado Springs), brought the community together in shared pursuit of one common goal: doubling the number of rescued victims (from 253 to 506).

The Exodus Road Freedom Rocks

Local artist, Lois Sprague, creating a beautiful piece for our silent auction.

Local artist, Lois Sprague, creating a beautiful piece for our silent auction.

The Exodus Road-64

Musician Emily Knurr plays for guests at The Exodus Road Dinner

Musician Emily Knurr plays for guests at The Exodus Road Dinner

The Exodus Road-77

*Photo Credit Mike Lyon Photography

It is with immense gratitude that we report the success of the event. All funds received on Friday and Saturday night have helped further fuel rescue efforts in India and Southeast Asia. The Exodus Road headquarters, located in Colorado Springs, stands in awe of the community support, involvement, and belief in our organization. It is because of partners like this, that act where they are, when they can, that we are able to move ever closer in finding and rescuing victims of human trafficking (today, we are pleased to report the rescue of 284).

To our city, our home, thank you.

 

Human trafficking is everywhere. The mechanisms for slavery exist in nearly every country around the globe. Labor trafficking, sex slavery, indentured servitude– these are realities for an estimated 27 million brothers and sisters of ours around the world. Today. On our watch. 

And The Exodus Road cares deeply about all. of. them. 

However, 27 million is a large number for one NGO to tackle, and since our roots began in SouthEast Asia through our own undercover work and police partnerships there, today our main focus remains in this part of the world. About a year ago, we launched into India, as well, funding cases and delivering covert gear to quality field teams. And it’s a necessary location to work in counter-trafficking, as estimates show that up to 24 million of the 27 million modern day slaves exist in Asia alone (check out this report HERE). As an organization attempting to systemically create change, we strategically apply pressure to adjust the landscape of modern slavery. And what better place to start than in some of the countries where slavery runs most rampant?

We’ve also learned through working with police and NGO communities here on the ground that significant resources are lacking particularly in this developing region where the numbers of victims are most staggering– and that’s why we’re here.

It’s why I send my husband out into brothels to look for children. It’s why we work long hours to raise funding for equipment that trusted police partners have asked for. It’s why we advocate and travel and write and have meetings, and quite frankly, bleed-out. Because a girl or boy in a brothel, and even millions of them, are begging for freedom, are desperate for it. And it’s not a half-hearted effort that will provide it for them. 

The Exodus Road-6

But having said all of that, we know, too, that the girl enslaved in a brothel could be in America, as well. 

And while the reported statistics of human trafficking and sex slavery are significantly less in the United States, we believe that freedom in the Land of the Free is something worth fighting for, too.

An estimated 40,000 victims were identified last year, according to the TIP (Trafficking in Persons) Report. Though they assume many more are present, the research remains inconclusive as to the current number of victims within the U.S. It’s also estimated that 100,000 children are victims of domestic trafficking right now and that 17,500 victims of trafficking were brought into the country last year alone.

- Modern-Day Slavery, NBC News

For the past eight months, my husband has been building trusted partnerships with several local government agencies in Colorado. This work takes time, and we’ve learned from experience that strategically fighting slavery must be done in partnership with local authorities. We’ve also been developing a program for local communities to actively become equipped to fight trafficking in their own neighborhoods, in partnership with police. We have sixty volunteers already signed up to run a pilot program in Colorado, and we’ll be hosting our first training for that program in late August. Our lawyers and our development team are still in process of setting up the program, both legally and effectively, but our hope is that by January of 2015, we’ll be able to provide average U.S. citizens with the tools necessary to really watch and combat trafficking, right in their own backyards. We’ll be revealing more over the course of the next few months.

We know that fighting trafficking on American soil will be slower and “less dramatic” work with much fewer tangible “rescues.” (Though even our beginning efforts have resulted in an arrest and rescue with local police in Colorado.) Trafficking in the U.S. is much more difficult to identify for many reasons and the laws about what an NGO can legally do are much stricter than in foreign countries. We know that; but we still believe in mobilizing civil society to rise up on behalf of the slaves in their own communities. Justice is in the hands of the ordinary, after all. 

Because, again, these things take time. 

Screen Shot 2014-06-20 at 1.00.31 PM

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.

Perhaps by next year at this time, we’ll be able to host blogging trips that highlight effective partnerships at “home” (for us) in America. But, for now, we feel confident that seeing slavery firsthand– and meeting those in the trenches sacrificing to fight it — is powerful in and of itself.

When we think of the scale of modern-day slavery, literally tens of millions who live in exploitation, this whole effort can seem daunting, but it’s the right effort,” Kerry said. “There are countless voiceless people, countless nameless people except to their families or perhaps a phony name by which they are being exploited, who look to us for their freedom.”

- John Kerry, in releasing the 2013 TIP Report 

Thanks, as always, for following along with us here at The Exodus Road. Please continue to read and share the stories that have been written this week about our time in the field by four seasoned writers. And please keep watch for reports about our upcoming program to bring freedom efforts to communities in the U.S., as well.

 
- Laura Parker, VP Communications, The Exodus Road 
*A note about statistics. The estimates around modern day slavery are extremely difficult to determine. Many organizations and government agencies report varying statistics, or even, as the Polaris Project says, claim that the results are too inconclusive to even estimate. If you want to learn more, check out any of the U.S. TIP Reports, especially the country summaries of places of interest to you. 

We’ve had several victories through field teams over the last month and a half — successes that have pushed freedom forward on three continents and resulted in the rescue of 33 women and teenagers trapped in sex slavery. In addition to rescue, we’ve tackled two after care projects with partners, as well.

As with any victories that we report, our organization played a direct role in operations — whether by funding it, providing critical pieces of covert gear, or giving or funding investigative services. Of course, our field partners are engaged in many more rescue, investigative and after care projects on a monthly basis, and while we are so proud of their work, we only report officially on the cases or projects that our donors for The Exodus Road have directly funded. Most of this monthly funding comes to teams on various continents through our Search and Rescue Program {which we’d love for you to consider joining!}.

case files sex trafficking

Pictured above are six case files, representing an estimated 300 victims, which DELTA team has tirelessly built evidence around. 

United States {CHARLIE Team}

Working with a local police task force we had built relationships with and with a local retail partner who sponsors us, we were able to pass on a key tip to officials that resulted in the rescue of two girls and the arrest of their pimp. We’ll have the official press release soon, but we wanted to share this news as an example that sex trafficking does indeed happen right here in the United States.

In connection with this case and with our commitment to holistic care, we also donated $1,000 to assist with the restorative after care of one of the victims who desperately needed a safe place to stay.

 

India {BRAVO Team, DELTA Team}

We’ve had two successful missions recently in India in two different cities. One raid of a dance bar on June 17 resulted in the release of 28 victims of sex trafficking — seven of the girls were under the age of 18. We were proud to sponsor all the expenses of this case that was led by our partner Indian Rescue Mission. We’ll be releasing news articles about that case shortly.

We were also asked by a U.S. Agency to conduct investigations into a popular tourist city in India. Thankfully, two members of DELTA team were able to accept the case and deployed from Asia. The Exodus Road funded their trip for several days, and they were able to investigate key brothels and begin a partnership with an NGO stationed there. They investigated several parts of the city and interfaced with local police, as well. The authorities have already asked for their return. Again, this mission was a prime example of locals who lack the resources (and often training necessary) utilizing the investigative services we as a coalition are able to provide.

 

SE Asia {ALPHA Team, DELTA Team}

We support two groups as part of our ALPHA team, and one has recently rescued three cross-border trafficked victims. The case is still being processed, so we can’t share details at this point, but we are grateful to have been able to fund a portion of this immediate rescue op with police in Vietnam.

In addition, DELTA team still continues to gather incredible evidence against traffickers. Currently, they have solid cases which represent an estimated 300 victims. We’re working on getting those cases pushed through the proper government channels. They’ve also recently added a new member to their team — a female. We will be publishing an interview with her shortly, so that you can hear from her perspective what her last month has looked like in her training.

sleep with me

In other news, The Exodus Road is hosting its first blogger trip this week, and we’d love for you to follow along. Heather Armstrong, Kristen Howerton, and Roo Ciambriello will be here for the first time, along with Jamie Wright, who will be serving as team lead, along with Matt and Laura Parker and DELTA team. We are excited and thankful that these women are choosing to use their voices and their platforms for the modern day slave. Follow the hashtags #ExodusRoad on social media to see our work through their eyes.

And as always, if you are a monthly supporter of a Search and Rescue Team or a financial donor, please know that your generous giving is what makes these steps forward, possible.

33 women and teenagers who are no longer in brothels would say thank you for being a part of The Exodus Road. 

Seeing is Believing

Sam Stephenson —  June 16, 2014

Red Light

“Can you take us to the city?”*

“The city, oh yes, the city.”

“130 Guest House.”

“Yes, yes, no problem.”

We haven’t had much luck with cabs so far. We have paid too much, gotten dropped off at the wrong places, missed a few good ones, and wanted to get out of a few bad ones. As we start the drive from the capital, I am not feeling confident.

We finally made it. But we can’t find our hotel.

Every time the cab slows down or turns down an alley, women approach the car. Music is blaring from the 15 bars that surround us. The red glow from surrounding shops seems to slowly pour into the vehicle. The air conditioning only works if the car is moving. Our driver is starting to lose his mind. “you. don’t. know. hotel!” he mumbles in the front seat. He is right, we have no clue where we are going.

We call our boss and hand the phone to our cab driver.

“Walking street.” We overhear him say.

“Yes, yes, walking street, no problem.”

Three minutes later we stop in front of walking street and the driver gets out. He hands us our bags, we pay him, and there we are, standing in front of one of Asia’s largest red light districts, luggage in tow.

A fifty year old man stands across the street, wife in arm, staring into Go-A-Go-Go, iPhone out, recording as the door swings open and closed. His wife stares at the ground.

Every sense is engaged on walking street. Neon lights tear through the darkness, music blares from what seems like every speaker in the eastern hemisphere, each step taken is met with the hands of a prostitute or a salesmen, the smell of cheap beer and seafood sporadically overwhelm, our dry mouths crave a drink.

The words of poet Marie Howe echo in my ear as I search for a language that will explain what I am feeling. “Can we ever really be seen? I think the thing of Jesus, I mean he must have been like this — and Buddha must have been and all these great enlightened ones, he must have been able to really see people, you know?”

Can we ever be seen? Can I take some time to see people while I am here? Can I see the prostitute – as a human being? Can I see the men, young and old, from all the nations of the world that seem to inhabit this street – as human beings? Can I stand in opposition to the ethic of this street (an ethic that says human worth is directly correlated to what is being sold) and still see?

An investigator picks us up and takes us to a hotel. It is nice to put our luggage down.

“You ready to go out? You are going to see nakedness. Get over it. The most important moments you will have on this trip are in conversation.” We walk over to the nearest bar. Kelli. Sam. Covert Investigator. What has happened in the last 10 minutes?

A prostitute comes over to us. Looks at me and says, “You have someone, that is nice, see, he does not, and it is not good for a man to be lonely.” The investigator and the prostitute start talking.

She is in her thirties and has come to the big city to work. There is a lot of money in this field, she says. She has three kids, who have a dad that vanished as soon as the third was born, leaving them to fend for themselves.

The investigator tells her he is married. She shifts her body weight, leans in and says, “You are married, your wife is a good woman, she is taking care of your family, I won’t sleep with you.”

We walk out of the bar. First night of work done.

Our investigator looks at us, eyes glistening “There I am, in the middle of a go-go bar, and she is trying to protect me.”

The prostitute sees. It is what drives her to work in a bar in the middle of the city. It is also what allows her to take a stand for something she cares about to no end: family.

The investigator sees. It is what drives him into bars, nightclubs, go-go’s, and various pockets of a highly sexualized underworld, at all hours of the day. It is what allows him to take a stand for something he cares about to no end: human dignity.

Seeing inspires us but it also wounds us. For the next two weeks, I am keeping my eyes open and trying to see.

The Exodus Road works hard to provide key resources for nationals to fight modern day slavery in their own backyards. Since immigration law is a key element in cross-border trafficking, we were pleased to partner with the Thai Labor Department in an all-day seminar about trafficking as it relates to labor laws in Thailand. Several hundred Thai attended the seminar on May 28, 2014, along with a few Western and Thai NGO representatives. Topics covered included:  Immigration Law and Modern Day Slavery, Transnational Trafficking, The Importance of Collaboration, and Trafficking and Thai Law. Keynote speakers included Joel Karum (Ezekiel Rain), Colonel Appichart Hattasin (Thai Royal Police), Matt Parker (The Exodus Road), and several key leaders from the Labor Department.

During the seminar, one of the national attendees said to founder Matt Parker, “Thank you for doing this. It’s the first time I can remember an event like this being done for us.”

We are grateful for the leadership of Buddy Rathmell, Field Director of The Exodus Road Thailand and Founder of Stop Slavery and Thanakorn Viwatronakit, Board Member of Freedom Foundation. Without their on-the-ground leadership, the event could not have taken place.

exodus road labor department

DSC_0806

police exodus road

conference

thai conference exodus road