The Exodus Road: Empowering Rescue and what you can do to help

As many of you know, I traveled to Thailand with The Exodus Road in June to learn more about their work in fighting human trafficking. And as I'm sure you can imagine, I have stories to share - stories like this one:

We witnessed this on our first night in Thailand, at the second brothel/bar we visited. To say that what we saw was sad and infuriating doesn't even begin to cover it.  And it's just one story out of many that happen all over the world - our job on this trip was to witness and share as many of these stories as we can. My fellow Storytellers: Kelly, Heather, Erika, and Doug are all sharing stories over the next couple of weeks on our personal platforms; they are all collected here because the internet is big and it helps to have them all in one place. 

But I keep coming back to the end, which is the question that begs to be answered: So?

So a few of you travelled halfway around the world...and? How does that help? And yes, I'll hear and read the stories, but what can I do?

Excellent questions.  The long answer is here, but the short answer is that if you want to make a change, you have to go where the trouble is. Exploitation happens where "good" people don't want to go. And the good news is that there is a lot that we can do. It's a huge problem, but we can help and the way most of us can help is with money to help fund rescues directly.

Money? Ugh. 

Yes. Money. It is my hope that our stories will inspire you to donate to their work. You can do a one time donation or sign up to become a Freedom Partner. Freedom partners pledge a monthly donation and in return get updates from the team they are supporting. And here's the kicker: $35 is all it takes to fund one night of investigative work. The ask is really small, and the results are huge. 

On the subject of money: In modern slavery power is exerted with money. For example, if any of the girls we saw that night are true victims of trafficking, they are trapped because they most likely have a debt to pay. To my ears, how they fall into this debt is heartbreaking in its simplicity and its cruelty. But the truth is that they are being exploited - and in the cities we visited, the average quota for these girls and women is 100 men a month until the debt is paid. It almost never is, of course. Even if they are young. 

How do they know that the girls are truly victims of trafficking? By rescuing one girl, aren't you just putting a target on other girls?

The truth is that sometimes prostitution is a job. But it is also true that prostitution is an easy way to hide trafficking. In a lot of places, there is no safe mechanism to ask for help. Sometimes, you don't want the police to show up, even when you're a victim, because you don't know if the rescuer is corrupt or not. In Thailand police departments simply lack the funds or manpower to fully investigate each case to find the true victims of trafficking.

The traffickers know this, of course, and they exploit those weaknesses in the system.

That is where the work of the Exodus Road comes in. Just like criminals work together to traffic people across borders, The Exodus Road works with various organizations and volunteers to make it difficult for criminals to exploit people. They go undercover to find victims and collect evidence which they present to their partners in law enforcement. This is the work that we witnessed and that we are sharing with you, but what they do goes beyond that, and it was one of the most empowering things I learned. They also supply police departments with equipment so they can not only rescue individual victims, but also build cases against trafficking networks. And they do a lot of work that must be behind the scenes to help police more effectively do their jobs. 

While some Exodus Road volunteers do travel to Thailand to do investigative undercover work - they visit brothels, identify potential victims and gather information to pass on to the police - this is a small group that is very well trained and screened both before and after they do the work. Everything they do is monitored and collected.

I can't give too many details, obviously, which I know makes that part of the work seem even more fascinating. That is what is so tricky about the stories we have shared and will be sharing. What I can say about these teams is that many of them work (or have worked) in law enforcement or the military and they treat this work with the same respect and professionalism they do back home. 

The Exodus Road has a standard operation procedure handbook by which all investigators while on mission with The Exodus Road or while using granted funds from The Exodus Road commit to adhering to. All operations also operate within local laws and in partnerships with local authorities. Agents are trained, travel in partners when engaging in higher level surveillance, and are committed to not further “victimizing” the victim during the course of investigations. With policy and accountability in place, The Exodus Road encourages quality, effective evidence-gathering practices for the entire community. All data gathered during operations is entered into our customized, encrypted database program which tracks and helps to analyze all intelligence gathered.

The staff (who is mostly made up of locals, incidentally) understand local needs and come up with solutions much more effectively than any visitor can. They are the true backbone of the operation. What volunteers like us is help them by raising awareness and funds so they can do the work

The Exodus Road ultimately is working to make trafficking and exploiting men, women, and children too dangerous for the traffickers to make money. And it is working. As of today, 749 victims have been rescued, and 234 arrests have come from their support. And they have also seen the streets begin to change - people are starting to be afraid to come to the areas they have targeted. Change can happen.