stories

This work lets us meet people on the front lines with incredible stories. From survivors of human trafficking to local heroes to undercover operatives, each person we rub shoulders with has a story to tell. Here are a few that keep us especially inspired.

story collection

Survivor Story

21 Sex Trafficking Survivors are Given a Wedding

21 women in India’s sex trade just received a life-changing gift that could save them from a life of prostitution. These 21 women, many of whom had been forced into prostitution since childhood, were given a wedding.

The women belong to two of the lowly or “untouchable” castes in India, where safety and status are often out of reach. In their villages, prostitution is the traditional trade for women. They are sold for sex along highways, or in brothels and bars in cities.

Marriage is rare and discouraged for these girls because they are not allowed to take clients once they are married. The women also face financial obstacles.

Women from two of these poor villages started petitioning their police and officials for permission to marry. According to The Exodus Road’s operatives, the women wanted to marry their boyfriends and leave the sex trade their families had forced them into.

When the police looked into the women’s complaints, they found that 21 women in these two villages wanted to marry and leave prostitution. The police and officials agreed to marry the women and their partners in one group ceremony.

The women’s villages in rural India came together to make it possible for their group wedding. Individuals, police, and government officials collected money for the event, which cost the equivalent of about $12,000. Police asked The Exodus Road to contribute to the fund.

Freedom. Love. Dignity. What a gift to give.

Location:India

Year:2017

Rescue Mission

Boys Can Be Trafficked Too

In December, The Exodus Road and local police worked a successful sting operation in Southeast Asia that rescued six teenage boys from sex trafficking. All of the boys were between the ages of 14 and 16.

The team worked for over six months and logged countless hours to gather actionable intel to support law enforcement. Two prominent traffickers in the region were arrested. One of the operatives on the mission later wrote: “We had some issues during the operation and believed that it could have been compromised. We were considering aborting due to risk, but my partner turned to me and said: ‘I’m not leaving my wife and kids after only 15 minutes. I couldn’t live with myself if I did.’ [And I agree.] It’s not a job or a hobby to me. They are [like] my own wife and children. I won’t give up on them.”

This case represents the incredible collaboration between our Thai national team, our Western deployed operatives, and local authorities. It is a testament to the tenacity, investigative excellence, and compassion our teams bring to the front lines.

The boys are now in the care of the Social Welfare Department. We will continue to follow up with them throughout coming months.

Location:Thailand

Year:2016

Survivor Story

Meet Noi, A Girl Waiting for Rescue in a Foreign Hotel

The Facebook message read: “Help me, I have been trafficked.” 22-year-old Noi,* from Thailand, had just gotten off the plane in The Kingdom of Bahrain a few hours before.

She was promised a job working in a hotel, but as soon as she landed, three female traffickers immediately took her passport. They were holding her in a hotel room with 10 other young Thai women. “Please hurry; I’m hiding in the bathroom, and they don’t know I’m talking to you. They have my passport,” Noi continued to text. With the help of our Thai Operations Manager, and while coordinating five different government agencies from both countries, police struggled to pinpoint her location.

We texted Noi back, “We need you to be brave; we need you to take photos outside your window.” Noi took the photos, and finally, a location was determined. A mission was launched by the SWAT team in The Kingdom of Bahrain, and Noi was rescued within 48 hours of sending that first Facebook message.

Today, eight months later, we are happy to report that Noi is currently doing well. In February, she married a boy from her village, and she has started a new life — one where she’s free.

Location:The Kingdom of Bahrain

Year:2016

Survivor Story - Operation Orchid

Meet Human Trafficking Survivor, Bashita

Bashita* comes from a poor family in Bangladesh. When a man Bashita knew promised to marry her across the border in India, she accepted. But once she was transported to India, Bashita found not a wedding but a brothel awaiting her.

Manipulated into leaving her home country, moved across borders, and then forced into sex slavery, 20-year-old Bashita was devastated and abandoned. Living in constant pain and fear, she was forced to have sex with customers day and night.

Bashita’s abuse wasn’t just painful because of the repeated rape she endured. She had been in a car accident just three months earlier and had iron rods in her back and leg. Complying with customers’ demands was torture. But while so many girls caught in trafficking face months or years of slavery, Bashita’s life in the brothel lasted for 10 days.

Our investigators received a tip that girls had been trafficked across the border to be sold for sex in the brothel. After gathering sufficient evidence, they were able to conduct Operation ORCHID with the help of local police.

In this operation, The Exodus Road and local police rescued two minor girls and two women from the roadside brothel, and helped arrest five traffickers and customers.

Today, Bashita is no longer being subjected to constant pain and is recovering in a safe-home.  Our social workers will continue to follow up with her and support her as she takes her first steps into freedom.

Location:India

Year:2017

Investigator Story

An Investigator Journals from 2017 Deployment

Sepo. I can’t forget her.

She was selling herself on the street. She was from Zambia, and her smile was pure. To her, I was just another prospective john, but she treated me like a genuine friend.

And it’s that fact that has me in tears, weeks after deployment.

She’d been trafficked — sold on the idea that she’d teach English, only to discover upon her arrival to the city that there was no teaching job, that she now owed her traffickers $7,000, and she had only one way of paying it off. In that way, a sale to me would have represented another small step toward her freedom. What a price to pay.

She shared her story with me, which was heartbreaking. But the really gut-wrenching aspect of all of it never really hit home until I spoke with my post-deployment counselor.

The thing is, Sepo was a captive, but she was not crushed.

Despite her enslavement, she behaved with dignity and humility. Sepo’s smile, though offered through a thousand different pains, felt so genuine. Her words did not bite or sting. There she was, a slave, and yet she passed no pain or bitterness on to me — a presumed predator of her vulnerability.

On one hand [in this work], one can see the horrific evil of which the human heart is capable, and in the same moment, through the demeanor of someone like Sepo, the greatness of humanity’s spirit is fully displayed.

– Aaron*, Investigator on Deployment with The Exodus Road in SE Asia

Location:Southeast Asia

Year:2017

Survivor Story

Meet Cathy, a Ugandan Woman in SE Asia

While in a red-light district doing investigations in Thailand, Matt Parker met a Ugandan woman named Cathy*. Cathy was missing a portion of her front tooth because a customer had beaten her.  She was in her mid-twenties and her pimp would not return her passport.

She had been working as a prostitute for two years and desperately wanted to return home to her family and two young children in Uganda.

Matt was able to connect Cathy with a key field partner who worked hard to offer Cathy immediate safety and future options. Plans were made to get Cathy back home and reunited with her own children.

Several months after that initial meeting, The Exodus Road funded the repatriation expenses for Cathy to return to Uganda, including her legal fees and airline ticket. We were also able to pay for dental work to fix her broken tooth. Cathy is now reunited with her children and fam­ily. She completed a business training course and started her own small business.

“Thanks a lot because you’re the one who did this for me. Thanks for the teeth and everything. May God bless you and your family. I’m so so happy. Thank you.” – Cathy, August 2013, in a letter to The Exodus Road

Location:SE Asia

Year:2013

Rescue Mission

How Technology Helped Bust a Crime Ring

When The Exodus Road received a grant of cyberforensics technology in 2014, our vision was for it to be used to gather key evidence against larger crime syndicates involved in human trafficking. One year later, that equipment led to the freedom of hundreds of Rohingya people.

The Rohingyas, a stateless and vulnerable people, were being smuggled into southern Thailand and then being held in off-the-grid jungle camps. In these camps, traffickers would either ransom individuals or sell them into labor slavery in Malaysia. Those trapped at the jungle camps experienced deplorable conditions and abuse. Mass graves were found at the camps, some with nearly 30 bodies.

While the local police had evidence against lower-level traffickers in the operation, they lacked the evidence sufficient to convict the leaders of the crime ring. Thankfully, police began working with our partners at Freeland, who turned to us for help. The Exodus Road provided cyber forensics technology and funded the analysis of the data gathered from cell phones of the traffickers in custody. This data proved critical to the location and arrest of the kingpin of the entire trafficking ring. The evidence in this case and the resulted arrests gained global media attention.

Location:Thailand

Year:2014

Survivor Story

Meet Sarah, Our First Survivor Rescued

We met Sarah in a brothel in southern Thailand. There was a line of prostitutes behind a glass wall. They were sitting on high bar stools, numbers pinned to their shoulders, displayed for the customers on the other side of the glass.

And then, they brought in Sarah. She was “fresh,” the pimp had told our lead investigator over the phone. She was 15 and had been sold by her mother in a neighboring country several days before to work off a debt. Sarah’s virginity had been sold three days prior for $600.

With covert cameras, our investigators recorded the sale of Sarah for the night, capturing valuable evidence that could be passed on to authorities in hopes of the pimp’s prosecution.

The following day, our investigator returned to visit Sarah in the brothel. She scribbled a note, “Please rescue me,” on a bill and slipped it to him. She wanted out but didn’t know the way.

Immediately, our investigator gave his testimony and video evidence to the authorities and asked the government to conduct a raid on Sarah’s behalf. They believed that 10 or more girls were also being held at the same brothel.

Working in connection with the local government, authorities performed a raid on Sarah’s brothel. The operation was a collective effort chiefly spearheaded by the lead investigator and resulted in the discovery of eight underage victims and the arrests of the brothel owners.

After weeks of waiting, Sarah’s note finally got answered.

Location:Thailand

Year:2012

FEATURED STORY: She Could Be Me

Operation Runaway – Special Project

Jami,* 15, had been kidnapped from her home. Taken by force to another city, she was put in an apartment where she was manipulated, raped, and sold for sex. Jami* was desperate to find a way out. And when a narrow window opened, she was brave enough to run.

Just one month before this moment, Jami was living with her single mother in a market in India. Her father had died, and Jami and her mother lived in poor conditions.

When Jami was at home alone, three traffickers forced her into a vehicle. She was moved to another city and handed off to two women who kept her in an apartment where she was forced into prostitution.

Jami continued to look for a way out. As she listened as her traffickers discussed selling her, she ran from the apartment and made it to a nearby market.

Jami threw her arms around a woman in the market and cried out for help. An informant at the market saw Jami and immediately called The Exodus Road. Jami explained that she had been trafficked and answered our questions. And she didn’t just save herself — Jami told police there was another girl still trapped.

Our staff stayed on the phone with Jami and quickly coordinated with local police to find Jami and rescue the second girl from the apartment. Both of the female traffickers and the three male traffickers who abducted Jami were arrested.

Today, Jami is safe and has returned home to her family.

Location:India

Year:2017

“Thanks a lot because you’re the one who did this for me. May God bless you and your family. I’m so so happy. Thank you.”

— Cathy, August 2013, in a letter to The Exodus Road