He watched the 13-year-old prostitute carefully, thinking only of his daughter back in America.
His daughter played soccer with her friends on the weekends, listened to Taylor Swift, and loved pizza. She was a free spirit, but she had grown up under the protective wings of her parents, which kept her innocence intact. His daughter had dreams of becoming singer, going to college, and having a family. She was young, but she was wise and full of discipline. She would one day grow into a beautiful woman. Would she make mistakes? Absolutely. But she would learn from them and grow. She had promise.
She Had Hope
He looked back to the girl he was watching and his heart clutched inside his chest. He fought to keep tears from overflowing onto his cheeks as he tried to reconcile the thoughts of his happy teenager with the girl he saw standing in front of him. He couldn’t.
She was neither carefree nor innocent. She had no future outside of addiction, hopelessness, and darkness. She lived her days out in a tiny room in the brothel where men visited her up to six times a day.
She Had No Hope
The man was a volunteer for The Exodus Road, an organization that aggressively pursues the end of modern-day slavery in India, Southeast Asia, and the United States. He was on a short-term investigative trip that he quickly realized would change his life. He met the girl as part of the undercover work his team used to liberate the slaves at the brothel. He had spent months preparing for this undercover reconnaissance mission, but nothing could have fully prepared him for the sights, sounds, and stories he experienced.
At the start of his investigation, he spent the night in a different brothel to gather intelligence. His dirty, cramped room was surrounded by rooms housing young sex slaves. It was a sleepless night filled with disturbing noises coming from the rooms around him. He had walked the streets and seen the girls crowding the storefronts wearing next to nothing, offering sex and free breakfast. The girls told him, in cold and distant voices, of the atrocities committed against them by strangers day in and day out.
It’s hard for us to reconcile the happy children we see in our homes and neighborhoods to the millions living as slaves all over the world. How do we look at the staggering numbers—27 million men, women, and children existing as slaves in some form today—and think we can do anything of substance to fight it?
The Exodus Road believes collaboration is the key. Many organizations already on the ground receive the funding and resources they need to conduct their investigations through grants and resource connections.
The team at The Exodus Road helps these organizations by finding, freeing, and providing after-care to slaves in the sex trafficking industry. The investigative process, though, has no predictable timetable. It could take three weeks or three months. It’s more of a plodding rhythm than a sprint.
Usually, the police have been monitoring the situation before The Exodus Road steps in and simply need additional tools to finish the work. If The Exodus Road can provide the tools or remaining grant funding, a raid and rescue can happen quickly.
The Reconnaissance Missions
Before a raid can take place, search and rescue teams do painstaking reconnaissance work. They listen to talk on the streets, work with local law enforcement, and follow leads on trafficking under-age prostitutes at brothels. Then they go undercover as another group of tourists on the hunt for night of illicit fun.
Their conversations with the girls, however, are deliberate. These are intelligence-gathering missions and the men are working for the girls’ freedom. They record conversations, stage fake transactions with the brothel owners, take photographic and video data of the brothel, and compile it all until there is enough evidence to convict.
The way to stop these brothel owners is not to rescue just one girl, as she will be replaced by another, but to convict and prosecute the owner. This takes cooperation with local agencies, teamwork, and lots of patience.
There are risks involved, of course, especially when they venture overseas with The Exodus Road.
The trips are often very short, but extremely intense and emotionally draining. For this reason, the selection process is incredibly thorough and involves training and connection-building beforehand. Every step is kept under strict confidentiality.
Currently there are four field teams that conduct investigations and facilitate raids, but the long-term plan is to have additional support teams. The goal is to fill each team with nationals from that country, which makes the work abroad much smoother.
One Life At A Time
“Does slavery still exist?” eight-year-old Madison Decker asked her parents.
Instead of a sugar-coated answer, Madison’s mom gave her a candid, honest, yet vague account of the human trafficking that happens globally. Madison simply replied, “What can I do?”
From there a dream was born. Inspiration came from a poem about a man who changed the lives of starfish by helping just one small starfish at a time. This mirrored Madison’s core sentiment on how she could help; just one life at a time.
So Madison began designing jewelry centered on little starfish and varying shades of blue, the color of human trafficking awareness. She takes her pieces to markets and sells them while educating guests on how they can make a difference in the human trafficking industry. Her booth, Just One Life, also has information about The Exodus Road, and it has already contributed a substantial amount to helping victims around the world.
Madison’s story can be found on The Exodus Road Blog, where they have compiled several stories of inspiring abolitionists. The site also features real life, up-to-date stories from volunteers in the field who are working hard to rescue captive slaves, heart-wrenching tales from girls in the sex slave industry, and constant updates of how The Exodus Road is actively working from freedom.
Telling Their Stories
One blogger went on a trip with The Exodus Road for the sole purpose of connecting with and sharing the stories of victims. The blogger met Nam and Sai, two prostitutes in Southeast Asia, trapped in abuse and addiction. Nam has been in prostitution for more than a decade, though she’s only in her mid-twenties. She was kidnapped by a boyfriend who stole her passport, hooked her on methamphetamines and put her into prostitution rings. She spent 12 years trying to get home, but she was hesitant to leave the boyfriend she thought was in love with her.
Sai was three months pregnant when she told her story to the blogger. She knew she would have to work until her seventh month in order to support her child. The father was a married man who took almost half of her income. The blogger saw her demeanor fluctuate between anger, sadness, and giggling as she talked about life in the brothel. Stories like Nam’s and Sai’s are all too common. Slaves are often taken from their homes and brought to another country, stripped of their passports, and put to work in a place where they do no know the language, the laws or the people around them. They have no support group and are thus rendered helpless to return home. This is the mode of operation of the sex trade and the problem is it works. Girls often heavily rely on their boyfriends—the pimps—who take a huge percentage of their money. The cycle of addiction, shame, fear, and guilt is constant.
“Every girl you meet on these streets is an addict,” Sai said. “It’s one of four things for all of us: gambling, drugs, alcohol, and love. I say that love is an addiction because we know we will never receive it.”
The Exodus Road relies heavily on volunteer advocates who care about providing freedom for those trapped in the worst possible slavery. At www.theexodusraod.com/volunteer/ you can find a number of potential ways to jump in and help put an end to human trafficking. Here are a few of our favorite suggestions:
Seven Straight—Choose an entire week and commit to sharing at least one piece of social media with your circle online. Ask your friends to like and follow The Exodus Road on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Research and share articles or videos that depict trafficking. Awareness of an issue is the first step to getting involved in it, so bring slavery to the front of your friends’ minds.
Become an Exodus Road Blogger—If you are a blogger, use your voice to write for modern abolition. The Exodus Road has created a program where they provide you with prompts, facts, videos, and stories to share with your online audience. You write once a month on behalf of the modern day slave and you literally raise your voice for freedom.
Freedom Weekend—Are you a part of a faith community that might be interested in learning about modern slavery and how to fight it? Consider connecting your church or group with the Freedom Weekend Program. The Exodus Road provides you with a host of different smaller events which involve everyone in your faith community from children to youth to adults. The weekend finishes with a presentation about The Exodus Road and an opportunity for your community to join a Search and Rescue team together. It’s a crucial way they educate and engage with a large number of people at once.
If your heart broke as you read the stories above, know that you can become part of the solution. And if you don’t know where to start, begin with advocacy and awareness.
You may be one of the million of people who didn’t realize slavery was still in existence. The Exodus Road believes we all can play a big part in helping the masses become more informed. Each and every one of us can begin to share the truth so we can work together toward freedom.
The Exodus Road Book by Laura Parker with Matt Parker
The Exodus Road coalition was born from the personal journey of Matt and Laura Parker, and this is their story from the front lines: The Exodus Road: A Wife’s Journey Into Sex Trafficking and Rescue. The book is a gripping, honest account of Matt’s journey as an investigator into sex trafficking in Southeast Asia, and of Laura’s experiences sending her husband regularly into brothels. Throughout the story, readers are introduced to the need for collaboration, covert gear, and grant funding for investigative teams. Readers also meet several of the brave investigators who today continue to bring literal rescue to sex slaves around the world. You can purchase your copy from Amazon in either paperback or kindle.