From daring rescues in the dark of night to courageous escapes, we’ve been a part of more than a few rescue operations that left a permanent impression on our agents.
We’ve already shared a few of these riveting stories on the blog, where you can read about our first cybercrime case that rescued a toddler, ride along with a burn agent on a raid and even share in our operatives’ surprise when a trafficker burst into tears! But for this post, we decided to ask our agents which raids were most impactful to them. Today, we’re sharing four raids that made a big impact on our agents.
1. Her fear was palpable
Our first story comes from Cambodia, where rescue agent Mark, along with a fellow agent, were canvassing red-light districts to locate and rescue underage victims. A local tuk-tuk driver introduced them to a pimp who said he had young girls for sale.
When Mark saw the victims displayed on the back of the tuk-tuk like products on display, his heart sank. He was struck by how young and small they seemed, saying they didn’t appear to be more than 12 or 13 years old.
Mark and his partner met with police to set up a raid. To gather evidence, our undercover agents planned to use hidden cameras and to record money changing hands for the girls. Once they documented the sale, prosecutors could construct a case and launch a raid to rescue the children.
Mark and his partner set up a time to meet the trafficker at a seedy local hotel that catered to traffickers by renting rooms for an hour or two at a time. They met the criminal and a victim in a dingy room to complete the transaction. The poor child’s obvious fear made the experience particularly poignant to Mark.
Since they were at this particular hotel, she thought she was about to be abused right then and there. With the imminent threat of rape overshadowing her, she could barely control her fear. Mark felt “so horrible for this little girl who just thought (I was) about to abuse her.”
At that moment, it was challenging not to break cover and reassure the frightened child that instead of her abuse, her rescue instead was imminent.
And rescue did come. The footage our agents collected helped police build their case, and shortly thereafter, officers completed a successful raid. The trafficker was taken into custody, and several children, including the one Mark met, were freed from exploitation.
2. “‘Rough’ is an understatement”
Because exploited children suffer from being viewed as commodities rather than humans, they often have to endure horrifying living conditions. Samantha, one of our caseworkers in the Philippines, recalled walking through a compound where victims had been kept prior to a police raid.
“It was intense,” Samantha said. “The girls were not allowed to go out unless they were accompanied by the in-house male waiters. The doors were padlocked and they were threatened and starved if they didn’t perform well in front of customers.”
The children had been lured by traffickers under the pretense of getting legitimate, well-paying jobs before being trapped into sex work. “They got there because they were deceived,” Samantha remembered. “It was debt bondage—slavery.”
Trapped in the shabby rooms attached to a beer den, the poor girls were forced to take on at least five men a night and were punished if they didn’t meet the quota. “What they went through… ‘rough’ is an understatement,” Samantha said.
Seeing victims’ living conditions firsthand and hearing about the terrible, dehumanizing abuse they endured was an impactful experience for Samantha. “The place was so dingy; it was a beer house that had rooms for customers who wanted to buy sex with the girls. Seeing the place and knowing their situation really stressed me out,” she said.
Thanks to her diligent work, those kids are now free and recovering.
3. “Be here tomorrow at 2 a.m.”
If you were to ask any of our agents in the Dominican Republic which operation was the most important to them, they’d likely all share the same answer:
Operation Cattleya grew into a multi-site sting that spanned half the country and made national news. But it didn’t start off that way.
This raid culminated over nine months of investigation that began as a simple request for help. Police asked our agents to go undercover to see if a few girls and young women were being exploited in one of the major cities. But as our investigators dug further, they realized they were only scratching the surface of something much larger.
Jacob, one of our undercover agents on the case, couldn’t believe how the investigation ballooned: “Every time we moved forward, we kept getting more information [about] more girls being trafficked, and more perpetrators involved in this case.”
They discovered that all these seemingly separate traffickers were actually connected, driven by an international trafficking ring. “It just kept getting bigger and bigger, and there were just more and more locations that were part of this network,” Lucas, a lead agent, noted.
The leaders of the trafficking ring were luring women and girls from other countries with fake job offers. Once they arrived, the criminals stole their victims’ passports, threatened them at gunpoint, drugged them and transported them to various locations throughout the Dominican Republic.
We got a break in the case when one brave young woman faked taking the drugs and instead spiked her guard’s drink with them! She grabbed a friend and made a daring escape, heading to police headquarters to report their exploitation. Interviews with these survivors gave the police vital intel on the traffickers.
That investigation culminated in an enormous raid that hit eleven sites simultaneously, rescuing 70 souls and destroying a major trafficking ring. There’s much more to this incredible story; you can read the rest of the details here.
4.“This is my last call to you”
A foundational motivation for all of our agents is love for our survivors and those being abused. That love drives them to go to great lengths, suffer hardships and risk terrible danger for the sake of the exploited kids.
It also means that failed rescues—however rare they may be—are seared into their memories forever.
Mike remembers one massive operation he was a part of in the Philippines. The target was intimidating: a single huge compound housing more than 15 sex bars and up to 150 trafficking victims at any given time, not to mention staff, guards and other personnel. The operators were well-connected and had deep pockets, making the operation even more difficult.
“It is an unforgettable operation for me for many reasons,” Mike said. “First reason… it was the first time I felt I could have been killed.”
During an attempt to infiltrate the compound, Mike and the undercover police with him were “made.” Once the traffickers knew who they really were, the situation could turn ugly quickly. “Luckily, the goons disengaged,” Mike said.
The next time they made a move on the compound, they didn’t pull any punches. “We were ready this time,” Mike remembered. “We had eight companies from the elite counter-terrorism group from the Philippine National Police, on top of the policemen from the unit we were working with.”
That raid saved many victims and put several perpetrators behind bars. But unfortunately, perhaps due to its massive scale, some of the traffickers got wind of the strike beforehand. “Many of the children were taken away by some suspects minutes before the actual strike,” Mike said.
Mike had been developing relationships with a few victims as an undercover operative. These were children he knew well, children who’d come to learn that he wouldn’t abuse them and trusted him. Some even considered calling him “kuya,” a term of endearment that roughly translates to “big brother.”
Minutes before the raid was to begin, Mike got one of the most devastating phone calls of his life. It was one of the exploited children he’d gotten to know during the investigation: “Kuya, they said there’s going to be a raid, so we’ve escaped, but they locked us up in an apartment. I’m really very scared. This is my last call to you. Take care…”
Around the world, over a million more children are still trapped and afraid. Their traffickers treat them like property—their abusers even worse. Our agents are committed to rescuing every child within their power, but they can’t do it without your help.
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