In rescue work, we often talk about numbers. The number of children rescued from exploitation in a month, the number of successful raids in the last year, what percentage of survivors fall into which age groups. It’s one of our primary metrics for tracking and recording our work.
As much as we love to see our rescue numbers increase, we never lose sight of one important fact: each of those numbers represents a person.
Every child we rescue has a unique soul, an individual story and voice that, no matter how suppressed by her abusers, is hers alone. To take you beyond the numbers, we’re going to share how the voices of survivors impacted the agents who helped rescue them.
While we always use “survivor” terminology as a way to give language to the strength and forward momentum of an individual after exploitation, we also recognize that exploitation by definition is the dehumanizing and victimizing of a person. Below, you’ll read agents share words that never left them—please note the terms “victim” and “survivor” will be utilized to differentiate the circumstance of the individual at the time they made their statement.
Images are representational.
This victim spoke these words to an undercover rescue agent as police stormed in during a raid. The agent maintained his cover so well that the trafficked child still thought he was a sex buyer; she learned shortly thereafter that he was actually part of her rescue.
This simple phrase, spoken by an exploited child, left an un-erasable mark on rescue agent James’ heart. He went on to say: “In her eyes, I glimpsed the weight of anguish and sorrow that these young girls carry—a burden that resonated with me profoundly. Her plea for a return to the familiar comforts of home spoke volumes about the hardships she had endured, the pain she had suffered and the resilience she had displayed in the face of unimaginable circumstances.”
A few children, even at the point of rescue, had been so demoralized and conditioned by their traffickers that they thought the exploitation they suffered was somehow best for them. Some use what little money the traffickers give them to pay for school, their siblings’ education or even their parents’ medical bills. A life of freedom may seem unstable or even frightening to these desperate children. Where available, we empower survivors with economic solutions to become financially stable without being driven into exploitation.
During the rescue operation, the girl thought our agent, whom she’d come to trust, had betrayed her. She assumed she would be arrested along with the child traffickers and offenders. “I thought you’d have me jailed, that you’d deceived me. But (the social workers) explained to me what happened. I have already returned home… and I am extremely grateful,” she said.
One way criminals control their victims is by convincing them that if the police get involved, the victims will be in as much trouble as their oppressors. Traffickers use this technique to keep children from asking for help.
In this case, the exploited children realized they were finally being freed from the hell they’d been enduring. Overcome with joy, the girls burst out in song together.
Our rescue agent was explaining the rescue process to the child, who’d been trapped in exploitation for four months, when she suddenly vented her frustration. He later said this statement has “been a driving force for our team to do better, be quicker, to outsmart the bad guys.”
Each child we rescue is more than a number. They are living, vibrant souls bursting with personality and potential. But left captive in exploitation, they are stifled, abused and degraded, their voices silenced.
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