The Exodus Road is a national organization working tirelessly to find and free men, women, and children being trafficked and exploited around the world. This past summer, Exodus Road invited a group of people from different walks of live, but all influential in social media, to visit South East Asia. The idea behind this trip was for these individuals to come back and write about their experience as witnesses of the realities of human trafficking and what they learn about the measures and strategies being used to eliminate this ever-growing global problem.
A study released in early September by Polaris, a global company that promotes, advocates, and provides data and technology to eradicate human trafficking, showed the numbers of potential victims escalating in 20 U.S. states and Puerto Rico over the past nine years. And that number just included the victims, all women, that reached out for help. According to the study, the number of victims is really much larger and 72% are Latinas from Mexico, Brazil and Central America. The traffickers? 70% Latino men!
Roxanna Sarmiento, COO, We All Grow Latina, was among the writers invited to the Exodus Road Storytelling Trip. “What we saw in Thailand was devastating. And, that the percentage of Latin American victims keeps growing is heartbreaking. While human trafficking is obviously a borderless problem, I was shocked that women would be sent from Latin America to Southeast Asia to be exploited. But there is hope—and the work that The Exodus Road team does on a small budget is really impressive. I hope that we are able to shine a light on what they do and inspire more people to support their work” she said.
Below is my interview with Laura Parker, The Exodus Road team Leader.
HipLatina: Can you give me some background on Human Trafficking? Is it a global situation?
Exodus Road: Yes—human trafficking is absolutely a global situation. Estimates vary greatly, but The Global Slavery Index estimates that a staggering 45 million people will be affected by slavery in the year 2016. By comparison, the Atlantic Slave Trade of the 1800’s involved around 12 million individuals. The International Labor Organization reports that human trafficking represents the second fastest growing criminal business, grossing over 150 billion dollars per year. Clearly, human trafficking is a justice crisis we must take incredibly seriously. The US Department of State’s 2015 Trafficking in Humans Report defines trafficking (also known as “trafficking in persons” and “modern slavery”) as “the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.” Forms of modern slavery include sex trafficking, bondage labor or debt bondage, domestic servitude, and forced child labor. While trafficking can refer to the transportation of people across continents, the majority of it is intra-regional and domestic.
HL: Statistics showed that since 2007, there have been close to 30,000 victims of Human Trafficking in the US. Are there more states than others reflecting these numbers?
ER: Here is a link to an interesting article about trafficking in the US and there are some graphics that portray the common trafficking areas, and where there have been reported cases in the past.
HL: Tell me about Exodus Road. What is the goal of the organization? Are you a national organization?
ER: We find and free modern slaves through strategic action using ordinary people. We are an organization advancing freedom, and we refuse to let slavery flourish on our watch. Our primary focus lies in ushering in strategic, holistic rescue for current victims of slavery. We vet, train, fund and equip operatives to collect evidence of trafficking and then work with police to bring freedom. We also support victim services throughout the rescue and transition process.
The most effective force for change in any society are the men and women of that culture. We dedicate resources to training and equipping nationals (with knowledge, support, and technology) to find and free slaves in their own backyards and in their home countries–America included.
We work in the US, India, and throughout Southeast Asia with plans to expand into several new countries including South America.
HL: Do you work with law enforcement agencies to investigate human trafficking cases? Do you provide resources?
ER: Absolutely, our primary partners in this work are law enforcement agencies. We always work with law enforcement and police—we never work outside of them. Our organization provides support to them and their work. We provide covert gear, operational support, training, and funding for training.
HL: How do your search and rescue teams work? Are these people trained to go undercover? How do you keep them safe?
ER: All of our Search & Rescue operatives and teams are heavily vetted. There are many steps to the vetting process involving background checks and psychological evaluations as well as an intense training period. We see about a 30% acceptance rate into the program.
Our nationals are hired full-time and our teams are working overseas in both Southeast Asia and India. We have a strict protocol with very strict operational guidelines that everyone must follow. Our operatives wear covert gear, and they also have (in some cases) hand-to-hand self-defense training. Additionally, beginning in 2017 we will require counseling to encourage the mental health of our team members.
HL: Recently, CNN did a series on Human Trafficking, specifically about Sex Slaves in Texas. One of the episodes centered on the search for the accused kidnapper who would bring young women to the Houston area and forced them into prostitution. Can you comment on this?
ER: It’s a story we often hear. Women, especially in the US, are sometimes forced into prostitution. Any time there is a mechanism of control and someone cannot walk away, then that is trafficking. Anytime a minor is “sold” for sex by a third party, that is also trafficking. We find it horrible in any case, as pimps will often prey on young vulnerable girls, often runaways.
HL: What are the signs that we need to look for if we suspect of a human trafficking situation/case?
ER: Look to see if there are minors working in the red-light district or on street corners. Look for women that seem to be in a state of distress, or show any signs of force, manipulation, or control.
HL: Do you do any work on prevention?
ER: We do have awareness programs and we do some awareness-driven work on college campuses in Southeast Asia. We do some trainings to vulnerable people, however our StoryTelling trips are the major awareness component of our work. We have this idea that allowing people to know what is happening and see it first-hand invites them to be more engaged in the conflict.
HL: What happens after the rescue?
ER: We work with local governments, and because of this we have to follow their protocols. Many times underage victims are placed in the care of the Social Welfare Department. If they are of age then sometimes they are sent back home and sometimes they are sent to temporary shelters. We employ social workers that provide transitional care for victims so they have an advocate throughout the process of giving testimony, getting home, or getting settled in a new location. We also track victims for up to two years post raid. Sometimes we can provide funding for things like education after a rescue.
HL: Can you give me a status report on your organization’s progress towards eradication of human trafficking?
ER: We have supported 749 rescues and 234 arrests. We also have 640 trained nationals and 112 active operatives. In some communities, for example rural India, we are seeing brothels being not only shut down, but also literally bulldozed. We are seeing entire communities who are used to selling their daughters start to look at trafficking differently. These are places where arrests for trafficking are happening for the first time, and they are beginning to understand and see the issue differently. This is why we work with police and within the legal system; we are shifting the entire criminal syndicates and cultural systems, and one outcome is that it’s making trafficking more dangerous.
HL: How can people get involved in your organization?
ER: The easiest way to get involved is to become a monthly partner or give a one-time gift through our Freedom Partners page. You can also become a local volunteer by checking out our Volunteer Center page. Additionally, you can become an advocate for The Exodus Road by connecting with us on social media and sharing our story online; intentionally sharing with your communities every time you hear about trafficking. Finally, if you have people who are interested in serving with us overseas, that is a possibility as well.