Fist pumping alone in my pajamas wearing a headlamp.

Sometimes when your husband goes out to cabin restaurants* and dance clubs for a few nights in a row undercover with a team of international investigators, and you’re stuck at home reading a bunch of graphic anti-trafficking literature, the spirit and power and might of God pours out from the ceiling and drowns you.  This is an excerpt from one of my feature articles that will publish in December about that experience.

*Cabin restaurants are brothels in disguise. And not even very good disguise- sometimes if you order food at the “restaurants” they have to go down the street buy it to bring it back ;)


There was one last person to meet in our interviews with Tiny Hands staff: Jeff B, the Director of Freedom Operations and basically the driving force behind Tiny Hands’ field research. This was the guy everyone kept telling us we had to meet.  He was flying in that morning from Thailand.

I was a tiny bit intimidated. I couldn’t imagine what this guy would be like. Jet setter? James Bond? Leather jacket? Motorcycle?

One of those four was correct—he did drive a motorcycle.  But he was completely unassuming, I suppose the way an undercover investigator should be, sat down and described his approach in ways I could understand.

As mentioned in my last post, if you wanted to shut down Wal-Mart, Jeff explained, you wouldn’t just clear the shelves.  This would be simply rescuing individual girls. If you did that, Wal-Mart would just restock tomorrow morning. This could potentially draw more girls into the sex trade than there were today in order to restock the shelves.  You would not even shut down the individual store. This would be busting a local brothel. Wal-Mart would just open another store next door tomorrow.  A new brothel pops up down the street every time one is busted. Instead, you would follow the distribution chain to the ones in charge: the management and owners. To shut down the entire operation, you would attack the supply chain and dismantle the traffickers.

It made sense, I agreed. But how in the world would they do this? Undercover cameras? Spy gadgets? Double Agents? Would he talk to the girls directly? Get them to disclose the horror on camera? Would he have to pay for the time? And wouldn’t that be scary?

In short, yes, yep, yep, yah, yep, yes, and duh—my words, not his.

He collects evidence through undercover agents, technology and surveillance. This approach does not require a victim for intervention, though sometimes victims are intercepted, and builds evidence that supports conviction outside of victim testimony. A strong case built over time is less prone to corruption, targets higher-level criminals, and is collected within the laws and evidentiary requirements of that particular country.

In other words, they enter the mouth of the lion and document the work for the purpose of eradicating it entirely. Doing this, though, would require locating the distribution chain and getting into the cabin restaurants, talking to the owners and girls face-to-face, capturing it all on camera, and collecting any additional evidence that could be used in prosecution.

Fascinating. But here was the real question: Would we put our money where our mouth was and join Jeff B. and the local guys in the undercover places?

We would.

(By we, I mean my husband, Jeff.)

Lots of questions burst into the tiny section of my mind that keeps tracks of things like what my grandma would say about the morality of entering a brothel or cabin restaurant and paying for time with one of the girls for the purpose of gathering intelligence. It would involve money and time and drinks and face time with victims and criminals. They’d have to do it, and they’d have to pretend to like it.

So while my polite, Midwestern-raised husband set out for brothels with the undercover team, I searched for answers on my own: in Gary Haugen’s book, in God in a Brothel by Daniel Walker, and in the movie The Day My God Died—all staff-endorsed literature used during their prayer and fasting period. And I searched in the Bible.

Ultimately I concluded the following things based on what I knew to be true:

The group had prayed before beginning the operations. In doing so, they drew upon the resources of a God who was already present in that place. God was in the cabin restaurant, brothel, or dance club before this group had ever arrived. He’d been suffering with the girls inside, and He would remain there long after this group left. The people and places they’d encounter were as much a part of God’s creation as any others, and God had not surrendered them to anyone, not even to the traffickers.

I knew that He who is in us—in Jeff H, Jeff B, the investigators—is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4). If our faith was worth anything at all, then it had to be stronger than whatever darkness it might encounter along the way. We couldn’t remain afraid, indifferent or inactive in the face of human slavery. We were to go boldly in His name to such dark places to rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan and plead for the widow (God in a Brothel).

At this point, I was fist-pumping alone in my pajamas with a headlamp on and simultaneously checking my phone, refraining from texting Jeff things like: Where are you? What’s it like? Are you ok? Is everything cool? Did you see a girl yet? Don’t get hurt!

I knew that if one girl was to be freed due to the investigative work of these men, it was because the people with the power and influence she lacked would also be people of goodwill and courage (Terrify No More).

More fist pumping. Tiny Hands and my husband were people of goodwill and courage!

So, to recap: Gary Haugen, Daniel Walker, Jesus and I were all in agreement that night and the two that followed. God is there, we are not afraid, and it is our job as people of goodwill and courage to go in and find them, to turn the lights on (metaphorically) and lead everyone out, yes?

I understood during those times of waiting for Jeff to return that this was never God’s fault. God cares about the women, and He has equipped the human race with everything we need— time, education, resources, cash, skills, manpower and brain capacity—to end this injustice. It is we who have not responded.

But Tiny Hands is responding. During the course of three operations involving five hidden cameras and microphones, Jeff and his team, with our Jeff in tow, collected intelligence from seven places in two cities. Take that, trafficking.

Jeff’s reflections? Next post.


**Thanks to Beth and mom for helping me reel this one in, edit-wise ;)


A Little About the Business of For-Profit Rape…

I’ve formulated two decisive thoughts about sex-trafficking since being in Nepal.

First, I am convinced after my time with Tiny Hands, reading the “digging deeper” books listed below, and seeing the injustice with my own eyes, that sex trafficking—or rape for profit—is the absolute worst social injustice in the world, incorporating several other injustices in its operation.  I argued with myself that maybe genocide was at the top—we’ve seen the heartbreaking results of this a lot recently—but in the end, I realized that from the beginning of time until now and far into the future, sex-trafficking will end up crushing more lives than any of the worldwide genocides.

(Also, I’m wondering how I found myself in a coffee shop on the other side of the world weighing out worst-ness of sex-trafficking and genocide. People have asked if my year with World Next Door has been life-changing. I always say, No, not in the dramatic day-do-day or emotional functioning sense, but in subtle ways. This is a classic example.)

Second, is the language we all use. Simply put, another name for sex-trafficking—described by International Justice Mission as the collision of the man-made disasters of slavery, illegal detention, and sexual violence—is the lucrative business of rape for profit.

Don’t blow past that one: Sex-trafficking is really just a for-profit rape business.

There are owners, managers, distributors, supply chains and operation centers. The business owners function in the same cost/benefit models as all other businesses, and right now, in many places, sex-trafficking is a low-risk, high-reward business.  It’s not just a few outlying mean guys. It’s an organized criminal business enterprise.

Although I stand awed and stumped and paralyzed as I follow the organizational chart from one trafficked girl all the way to the top of command, many organizations—despite the enormity of the problem—are shaking themselves of fear and paralysis and are attacking different links in the sex-trafficking using their own niche of skills and expertise.

Organizations like Center for Global Impact (as described in our last two issues of World Next Door) are working tirelessly to reduce economic and social vulnerability in communities where sex-trafficking is rampant by providing alternative skills and incomes.   They are addressing poverty as a form of prevention, and understand that when the standard of living is raised and poverty is reduced, risk levels for trafficking decline.  In this case, community development and prevention efforts at the source are effectively combating one piece of the injustice.

International Justice Mission is all about the rescuing of the one. “While there are millions of girls and women victimized every day, our work will always be about the one. The one girl deceived. The one girl kidnapped. The one girl raped. The one girl infected with AIDS. The one girl needing a rescuer. To succumb to the enormity of the problem is to fail the one. And more is required of us.”  While they fulfill their intent to rescue the one, they are also highly focused on justice and prosecution using intelligence-led investigations (as opposed to reactive-led investigations). They are combating a different piece of the injustice—rescue and conviction.

The organization we are embedded with now, Tiny Hands, is using the same model of intelligence-led undercover operations, working in the field with local informants and collecting evidence (with hidden spy gadgets!) to both attack the supply chain and make sex-trafficking a high risk, low-reward industry.

All the intelligence they gather is funneling into a fusion center that will map out the entire network, source to destination—including points of origin for both the trafficker and the victim, transit routes, relationships, opportunistic trafficking vs. sophisticated systems, and destinations.  They are at the borders intercepting individual girls on a daily basis, which has been awe-inspiring to see in itself, but through the interception, they’re able to gather information about the trafficker and manage the trafficked girl’s case for prosecution.  Ultimately, they purpose to free those captive, arrest and convict the traffickers, and de-incentivise the trafficking business so it’s no longer profitable.

“Every successful intervention costs the criminals involved in trafficking a huge amount of money. Every successful prosecution costs them even more time and valuable resources. Every criminal sentenced to jail changes a community’s and a culture’s understanding of what is and is not acceptable.” (God in a Brothel by Daniel Walker)

More? No? Sorry, it’s coming anyway.

Jeff (not Jeff Hartman, Jeff the Director of Freedom Operations at Tiny Hands) described it to me like this:

If you wanted to shut down Wal-mart, you wouldn’t just clear the shelves.
(This would be simply rescuing individual girls)

If you did that, Wal-mart would just restock tomorrow morning.
(This could potentially draw more girls into the sex trade than there were today in order to restock the shelves)

You would not even shut down the individual store.
(Bust a local brothel)

Wal-mart would just open another store next door tomorrow.
(A new brothel pops-up down the street every time one is busted)

Instead, you would most effectively follow the distribution chain to the ones in charge: the management and owners. To shut down the entire operation, you would dis-empower the source. (The traffickers, not Wal-mart.)

And this is the ginormous approach by which Tiny Hands is attempting to attack Global Sex Trafficking—a pretty massive undertaking.

But, like Gary Haugen said, “Perhaps the greatest challenge in confronting evil is simply getting started.”

Books to read if you want to “dig deeper” into understanding the injustice and its interventions:

  • Terrify No More by Gary Haugen
  • God in a Brothel by Daniel Walker
  • Jeff Blom’s Blog (Jeff is the Director of Freedom Operations at Tiny Hands and former VP of Investigations at International Justice Mission):