I have a very clear memory of the moment that changed the trajectory of my life forever. I was crammed into the back of a tuk-tuk with four other men (three fellow “rookies” along with the executive director of a local anti-trafficking NGO), and we had just taken an unplanned turn onto one of the darkest, most dangerous roads within Phnom Penh’s seedy underbelly. We had already visited a handful of local bars known for housing victims of sex trafficking, and we were searching for one last establishment that our leader was intent on investigating. I was only half paying attention to the passing lights and sounds as my soul was on fire with the ramifications of interacting with trafficking victims, as well as perpetrators, face-to-face, and I was deep in thought about how those experiences would shape my future. I was brought quickly back from my reverie, however, when flashing lights were suddenly replaced by dark alleys and quick glimpses of girls lined up on the floor of unmarked and unfurnished entryways. Perhaps the lines between “bar” and “brothel” and “safe” and “unsafe” were blurrier than I imagined, but it appeared as though we had stumbled upon a row of brothels from which the only way to safely exit was to purchase and follow through with sex with an underage girl. After maybe a minute or so, a gang of men on motorcycles crept from the shadows, surrounded our tuk-tuk, and attempted to force us into a side alley (and presumably into one of the brothels). I could tell from our leader’s startled response that this was a new and worrisome experience for him, despite his years of experience investigating sex trafficking and background as a former marine. However, in that moment, I felt absolutely no fear whatsoever. On the contrary, I felt more at peace and more confident in what I was doing than I had ever felt in my entire life. It was in that moment that I knew that my purpose in life was to rescue girls from sex trafficking, and I made a silent promise – to myself, to all of the girls I met on the streets of Phnom Penh, and to the girls I had yet to meet who were and would become trapped in the perpetual cycle of rape and abuse that constitutes sex trafficking – that I would be back.
Since returning from my trip to Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 2010 (and yes, thanks to some quick maneuvering by our fearless tuk-tuk driver, we all escaped that motorcycle gang safe and sound), I have been on what has sometimes felt like a never-ending quest for the chance to work in the anti-trafficking field, specifically in rescue. I have taken sex-trafficking-focused trips to Mexico City and Bangalore, India; I have been involved in a ton of volunteer work with iEmpathize and a few other local non-profits; I have completed a handful of trafficking-focused research projects and presentations, including writing my 55-page law-school-seminar paper on trafficking and presenting on trafficking in front of over 100 professionals at a conference for child-abuse and neglect attorneys (before becoming one myself); I went through the year-long application process to become an FBI agent before finally having my job offer revoked when I failed the polygraph exam due to a false positive (this was probably the greatest disappointment of my life, but I know now that God had something else in mind for me); and I now represent children in abuse and neglect cases, which has given me a wealth of experience in interacting with teenagers and working with victims of trafficking and sexual abuse. However, despite all of my efforts and experiences, I was never able to find my way back to the streets of Phnom Penh and where I felt called to be.
In January of this year, through the strangest and most unexpected connection, I found myself blessed with the opportunity to join a team from Idaho on a trip to Thailand and Cambodia with Destiny Rescue (www.destinyrescue.org), an anti-trafficking organization headquartered in Thailand and with projects throughout Southeast Asia. As our team met and interacted with staff, volunteers, and rescued girls at DR rescue homes in multiple cities in Thailand and Cambodia, I fell in love with an organization that has had enormous success both rescuing and rehabilitating victims of sex trafficking, and doing it all in the right way. There is absolutely no greater joy than meeting rehabilitated girls and witnessing the full scope of God’s redemptive power; the girls I met in the various rescue homes were so utterly full of joy, passion, optimism, and a regained childlike-wonder for the world that I could not even fathom where they had been just months before. Prior to my first trip to Cambodia, I had thought that there may not be any hope for current victims of sex trafficking and that we just needed to abolish it for the sake of future victims; but, thankfully, I’ve been proven very wrong on that. That is the power of quality rehabilitation and restoration, and the promise it offers to victims of trafficking is why rescue is so important.
When I returned home from my DR trip at the beginning of April, I formulated a long-term plan for a continued relationship with DR that included joining another team trip within the following year and then possibly trying to become a full-time volunteer a year or two down the road. But, as is usually the case, God had other plans for me. Just a few weeks after I returned to Colorado, DR’s Cambodia country manager asked me to submit an application for a position in Cambodia; it wasn’t clear what the position actually was, but, of course, I applied. One week later, I was offered (and immediately accepted), what is essentially my dream job – based in Phnom Penh and starting around September 1st, 2015, I will be filling the role of Assistant Rescue Manager for DR’s Cambodia Operations. Not only will I be returning to the red-light districts of Phnom Penh and engaging directly in rescues of underage sex-trafficking victims, but I will also be using my legal skills and experience to expand DR’s relationship with the Cambodian government and increase DR’s legal authority to work with local police and execute more formalized raids of bars and brothels. In doing all of this, I will have the chance to be a key part of DR’s current plan for dramatically expanding rescue operations in Cambodia.
I feel that God is beginning to move in a big way in Cambodia, and I believe that we will see an end to sex trafficking, the greatest human-rights crisis of our time, within my lifetime. My position with Destiny Rescue is a volunteer position, so I absolutely cannot do it alone. I need an army of advocates and abolitionists willing to join me on this mission and make it financially possible for me to get to and then live and work in Phnom Penh. I truly believe that there is no cause more important than eradicating sex trafficking from the face of this Earth, and I would be honored for you to join me in this fight. Would you be willing to sponsor me for $25, $50, or even $100 per month? There are a lot of worthy causes out there, but, if you have a passion for rescuing girls from sex trafficking, like I do, there aren’t many better ways to get directly involved and support rescue operations.
At this very moment, there are literally thousands of sex slaves – trapped in an unimaginable nightmare or rape, torture, and abuse – praying desperately, to a God they probably don’t even believe in, for something or someone to show up and deliver them from their misery. Let’s join together and be the answer to those prayers!