19 Kids Rescued – 1 Bar, 1 Night
Filed Under: Blog
A 16 year old child still in the sex industry who we have been working with told us of a friend – another 16 year old that we’ll call Lek – who was also trapped in the sex-trade. She thought Lek was working in the Nana Plaza, a three-story, U-shaped building in Bangkok that houses upwards of 30 brothels, but had no real idea which bar. But she was pretty sure Lek was 3-4 months pregnant.
Destiny Rescue decided to find this poor kid and get her out! What we were to uncover on our journey to rescue Lek was to lead to the biggest raid in Destiny Rescue’s history.
Never Give Up!
Our undercover team, led by Tony Kirwan, our Founder and President, set out. On the first night of their search they walked in and out of every single bar in Nana Plaza showing a photo of Lek. This behaviour was frowned upon by the mamasans of each establishment who expect every patron who enters to spend some cash; freeloaders getting a sneak peak at the dancing girls are highly discouraged. This business is all about money.
The team continued anyway.
Perseverance paid off. At the 2nd to last bar, the mamasan reported the girl did work there, but was not in that night. She would be back tomorrow. It had been a hard night, but the rescue team went home satisfied.
The next night the team went back. What they saw as they waited for Lek to appear was at least five underage girls, and that was just in the section of the bar they could see. They never imagined they would release 19 underage girls on the night of the raid.
And there are definitely more… Lek wasn’t there the night of the raid, so it stands to reason there were more girls absent that night.
Children for sale? You bet.
The mamasan was very open about the girls being available for sex.
Tony: “Part of any rescue operation is asking the tough question: are the underage girls for sale for sex? Sometimes girls may just be employed to serve drinks, so we need to make sure that the girls are trafficked children, so we ask the question. The girl sitting next to me that night was 14. Initially the mamasan said she wasn’t available for sex, but when we made it clear we were looking to pay for sex with her; all of a sudden she was available”.
Planning a Raid
Tony: “As soon as we saw there were at least 5 kids working there, we knew it was enough to make anti-trafficking police take us seriously. In my head, I thought this has got to be enough. We had only decided to be deliberate about filming in the bar just the night before, so we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to get the police involved and get it all on camera”.
The anti-trafficking police were contacted.
Tony: “We were very careful in setting the raid up in a way that we believed would lead to success. We spoke with someone we trusted. He said he was happy to come and check the bar out for himself. We were very careful and arranged to meet him in a neutral position and then take him to the bar.
He was a good man and he saw what was happening and was keen to move straight away – no waiting – and he made a plan to come back that next night to raid the place.
The next night, because he was coming back with his team, we went into the bar before him to confirm the girls were still there. We were worried that there might be a leak and the girls wouldn’t be there, but they were all there. Then we noticed that the mamasan wasn’t there. The raid was called off for that night, and, while our goal is on rescuing kids, the focus of the police is on a successful arrest. It’s a good partnership; we each get what we want.
The following day was a big holiday in Thailand, so we put the raid off for 3 days until we were sure everyone was back from the holiday. We flew back the next week, went in and confirmed that the children and mamasan were all there.
This time we rocked up with another undercover policeman. The police gave us marked thousand baht bills to buy the girl – to obtain hard evidence of the fact that the mamasan was really selling children. She sold us two children that night, getting marked bills for both of them. When the raid went down, she was nailed; the bills were solid evidence.”
Will the Wheels Fall Off?
Tony: “There were several times we thought the wheels had fallen off the raid. When we went the first night and the mamasan wasn’t there, my first thought was, ‘Somehow she’s found out and she’s done a runner.’ It turned out nobody had.
There are 30-40 brothels in the Nana Plaza, and guys are paid to stand on the 2nd balcony and look out and try and see anything that is not quite right. The complex is U-shaped, so they can see all the action from their position on the 2nd floor.
On the night of the raid, they saw the 2 Thai men that came in with us and they spoke to them. The watchmen then came and told the mamasan that the Thai men with us were policemen. In what I see as a real God thing, she said ‘no they are not police; they are with Tony; it’s fine.’ So right there, she should have listened to the guys who are hired and trained to spot police. They did their job, they nailed it, but she brushed them off. Now she is paying the price for it.
There were opportunities where it looked like it was all going to fall over, but it didn’t.
And then, when the raid happened, they raided the rooms where the girls were being abused first, which was right next door to where we were. The brothel we intended to bust had heard the police were next door, and then all of a sudden all the girls disappeared – herded out the back. I’ve heard stories of many of these places; they have back doors where girls escape and simply disappear.
I thought we’d lost all the girls, but the police came in and we found them – all the girls – hidden out the back and let them out. Things could have gone bad, but they didn’t. We let them all out, all 22 of them – 19 underage.
The Real Face of Child Sexual Slavery
Tony: “Almost every girl that you come across in a bar has her own tragic story of being tricked, coerced or forced in by families or friends. Often there’s been some tragedy that’s happened in their family – mum’s desperately sick or father’s in hospital, he’s had a bike accident and needs surgery. There’s something significant that’s happened. Maybe there’s a big family debt they are being squeezed to pay.
Almost without exception, these kids just see there’s no other way to help their families, so sometimes they take a bullet for their families, other times their families force them to take the bullet. You don’t find, in my experience, girls that want to be there. There are girls there that might put on the facade of wanting to be there. I’ve been guilty myself of looking at a girl as she’s laughing and giggling and carrying on like she’s having the time of her life and thinking there’s no way we will be able to rescue her. But we’ve rescued girls exactly like that and when we get them out, they tell us how if they don’t put on that facade, they get beaten at the end of the night by the mamasan. It’s a make believe world for guys that can’t deal with the fact that they can’t get a nice girl in the real world.”
Gaining Police as Partners
Tony: “I couldn’t have been happier with how the police handled it. As soon as we told them that we identified a bar with a lot of young girls, our contact was there. He came in and identified that what we said was true. He came back that very next night to do a raid and when the mamasan wasn’t there, he was back the very first available night. He was there every single time he said he would be. It was perfect. I am very happy with the anti-trafficking police in Bangkok.
A Risky Business
When asked about the risks of this work, Tony is honest, but stays determined.
Tony: “There are always the risks. How you see it happen on TV is nothing like how it happens, at least here. After her arrest, the mamasan had what seemed like total freedom to walk around. No one was in cuffs, and once she had been arrested, she came storming in to me and going off at me for bringing the police and getting her arrested. In the movies they are arrested and taken off in the police car, but there she was, in my face, going off at me.
I tried to play dumb, but she pulled out the photocopied piece of paper the police had given her with the photocopies of the thousand baht bills, which I had given her to pay for this girl. I was busted.
For me, the risks are now, not then. We’ve heard things; she has a plan of how she is going to get me.”
We Have to Go Back
“As we were ducking in and out of the brothels looking for Lek that first time, we discovered there is no shortage of underage girls. On the night of the raid, Mike (not his real name) could see groups of 5 girls here and there coming out from everywhere from all these brothels and disappearing and going away into the night. So, we know that this area has lots of underage girls.
We are going to have to go back to get them out, which means the risks are higher, so we will just have to be smarter now.
There are risks and there are sacrifices, but for us, the kids we’re fighting to rescue are worth taking a risk for.”
22 people rescued, 19 of them children. 1 mamasan arrested and hopefully long enough that she will never see the light of day again. This is the work of Destiny Rescue
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