Child Rescue provides funding for rescue work conducted by Destiny Rescue in Cambodia, the Philippines and Thailand. This piece is written from the perspective of Destiny Rescue.
Aidan looked at his watch. He’d been in the car for nearly five hours since leaving the hotel before 4 a.m. that morning. He gazed out his window to see a busy cityscape slowly giving way to the verdant, tropical terrain typical of rural areas in the Philippines. Palm and Kamagong trees grew naturally and abundantly, broken only by the occasional settlement of clustered houses with tin roofs and blue walls.
As Aidan chatted with the other operatives in the car, a grim truth hung over their heads: they would be risking their lives in just a few hours.
Putting his life on the line
This wouldn’t be his first time putting his life on the line.
Aidan spent years as an undercover police officer before volunteering to be a rescue agent with Destiny Rescue, an organisation whose rescue work in Thailand, Cambodia, Nepal and the Philippines Child Rescue helps fund. With over a dozen years of experience in rescue operations in South Asia, he provides valuable expertise that our local operatives leverage regularly.
He had been brought in as a “poseur customer” to pose as a foreign businessman looking to purchase young girls for sex. The Destiny Rescue Philippines project leader, Bruce, assigned him to a case months in the making.
The groundwork was all in place. Back in the spring, Destiny Rescue agents received a tip that a pimp might be exploiting children. Local agents on the ground collaborated with partners in law enforcement in an extensive investigation that eventually confirmed the tip. After involving law enforcement, the team settled on a plan–and Aidan played an integral role in it.
Posing as a predator
As burn agents in this operation, both Aidan and Bruce lent vital credibility by posing as foreign businessmen looking to “party” while our local operatives handled the negotiation with the pimps. When the time was right, they would signal the police to raid. That’s when things could get really interesting.
Years of experience as an undercover agent taught Aidan that once police swarmed a location, tensions ran high on both sides. If the pimps were armed or tried to run, an already-tense situation could turn deadly.
A few hours later, Aidan stood with Bruce at their resort room’s window overlooking the sea. The furnishings were a bit dated, but the view of the water and surrounding mountains was breathtaking.
“Here they come,” said Bruce as Aidan took in the view. Aidan dropped his gaze from the seascape to see a couple of trikes pull up and well over a dozen girls and a few boys unloaded from the small, three-wheeled vehicles. He held back a grimace; several victims appeared to be in their early teens. One victim, a delicately-framed girl in a golden t-shirt, seemed particularly young.
Aidan took a breath and got into character as the pimps and girls made their way to his room.
Undercover agents acted as the local contacts, pretending to be facilitators who were putting the pimps in touch with Aidan and Bruce, the foreign businessmen and buyers. As Aidan feigned disinterest in the proceedings, he took stock of the pimps.
They’re ruining their lives.”
Aidan was surprised to see that both pimps were women in their early to mid-twenties. Beneath the mask of his persona, Aidan seethed. These women weren’t that far removed from the girls they were exploiting. There was even a chance that before they became criminals, they had been victims of trafficking themselves.
In an interview after the raid, Aidan described his thoughts: “How could you put these girls through what you went through? A 12, 13 or 14-year-old girl shouldn’t have to sleep with several men a night. [The traffickers are] ruining [these girls’] lives.”
After the initial meeting with the pimps, he and Bruce were introduced to the girls.
Aidan had a carefully-developed persona for interacting with victims in front of their pimps. He pretended to be a “first-time buyer” who was nervous about the prospect. Under the guise of being shy, he could subtly fend off attempts from the pimps to see him get handsy with the girls. Despite all his experience as an undercover agent, the process was still unsettling. “It always makes me feel a bit sick,” Aidan said. “We’re posing as paedophiles.”
The innocent, the quiet and the terrified
Aidan became even more uncomfortable when the lead pimp asked him to pick a girl.
While they waited for the rest of the “businessmen” to arrive, the pimp decided to offer Aidan and Bruce “first dibs” on the girls. Staying in character, Aidan picked the youngest-looking victim: a small girl with a delicate frame in a gold t-shirt. “She couldn’t disguise the fact that she didn’t want to be there,” Aidan recalled. “She spent most of the time hiding behind a pillow, hoping not to be picked.”
Her reaction was striking. Even as the other girls followed their “script” and congratulated the young victim, her facade fell away for a moment. She was afraid of the man who chose her, distressed at the thought of what would happen later. “What broke my heart was seeing her obvious discomfort,” Aidan later recalled. “Every time I looked at her, she looked away. [She was] very shy, innocent, quiet, terrified.”
Aidan recognised the behaviour. As a psychotherapist, he could clearly see that the young girl didn’t want to be there. Her attempts to hide or look small made it clear that she was “disassociating herself from the whole ordeal.”
But the tour didn’t stop there. The pimps then led the undercover agents to the room where the boys were being kept.
That will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
The immediate shift in the atmosphere struck Aidan. The room was quiet, the tone sombre. The boys were silent and reserved–and they looked extremely young.
The girls seemed more comfortable in their numbers and more practised in hiding their fear. “[The girls were] putting on a show for the pimps that they’re happy to be there,” Aidan said.
On the other hand, the boys sat separately, with their eyes down and quiet. “The boys all looked uncomfortable and scared,” Aidan said. “That will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
As he returned to the rooms where the girls were being kept, Aidan checked the time. He was ready to get the raid underway so these children wouldn’t have to face even one more night of suffering to fulfil the lustful desires of others.
Undercover agents discussed details of the purchase with the pimps, secretly keeping police updated via text messages. Aidan endured the proceedings patiently, anticipating these children being freed. Finally, an undercover officer passed the marked bills to the trafficker.
Go, go, go.
It was time. One of the agents turned, pretending to check his phone, and sent the message:
Everything happened at once.
The undercover officer who paid the pimps placed them under arrest immediately while the police outside made their move, storming the resort and rushing in from vehicles and adjacent rooms.
Aidan backed against the wall as an officer burst in, firearm drawn and aimed at the pimps. Once police secured the rooms, Aidan let his cover drop. It was a relief to stop pretending to be a child sex buyer.
She’s never getting out of jail.”
The pimps were seated on a bed and were read their rights. Aidan shook his head: it was obvious the lead pimp wasn’t taking the situation seriously. She remained casual and petulant as the police questioned her.
Aidan spoke with a Destiny Rescue agent outside the room later: “She doesn’t feel the gravity of it. She doesn’t know how much trouble she’s in. She’s never getting out of jail.”
The reaction of the victims was equally startling. Many girls seemed to encourage Aidan to run when the police burst in, still believing he was party to their exploitation. Most of them, confused by the aggressive entrance of the officers, thought they were going to prison. Some wept openly, while others sat in shock, wondering what would happen to their families. It would take them time to accept that they were not being incarcerated, but freed.
Changing for the better
As the girls listened to officers explain the situation, Aidan noticed one victim looking at him: the girl he had chosen while posing as an abuser. Her expression was piercing, quizzical. She’d been so conditioned to distrust their clientele that she seemed to wonder why a foreigner would be willing to help.
The other girls seemed equally perplexed. “They were just astonished [that] I was part of the raid,” Aidan remembered. “A lot of the girls were looking at me like they still didn’t understand how I was part of this. And they were kind of relieved. Because why [wouldn’t they be relieved]? Why would any young girl want to go with a fully grown man?”
Eventually, the survivors and pimps were ushered out of the rooms and into vans. They kept their heads covered with towels to help protect their identities while the pimps remained smug.
“I have no sympathy for [the pimps],” Aidan said later. “God can forgive them, but I hope they stay behind bars forever so no other child can be hurt by their greed.”
Later, back at law enforcement headquarters, the survivors sat in small groups as government and Destiny Rescue caseworkers recorded their personal information. They had finally started to relax a bit, but most were still concerned that they were in some sort of trouble.
However, one young girl in a gold t-shirt appeared to realize that things might be changing for the better. “I saw that the girl I had chosen went from scared about being in trouble to looking relieved,” Aidan remembered. “She gave me a bit of a smile.”
I would do it all again.”
After their inquest the next day, the children began rehabilitation with professional counsellors in a shelter. They’ll be equipped to move forward with their lives when they leave. They have a long road ahead of them, but it is a road to a new life free from exploitation.
Aidan returned home to his job as a psychotherapist, acutely aware of the effects of trauma on the rescued children and the agents working tirelessly for their release. It takes a stalwart heart to step into the shoes of a paedophile again and again. The effect, Aidan says, can be damaging to the soul. “The antidote is witnessing happy faces once the girls are freed,” he said.
Knowing his efforts play a part in stopping the abuse of exploited children makes it worth the pain. That’s why he volunteered to become a rescuer, and that’s why he won’t hesitate to return to the front lines when he’s needed to “do it all again.”
Destiny Rescue’s agents’ work in this raid saved the girl in gold, along with 18 others, from exploitation. Your gift helps fund operations like this so operatives can continue their tireless work for these precious souls.
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Child Rescue Charitable Trust and Child Rescue Charitable Aid Trust are registered New Zealand charities. Separate returns for each charity are filed each year with Charities Services which is a NZ Government organisation under the Department of Internal Affairs.
Annual reports to Charities Services can be viewed here
Please note: Annual Reports on this website will refer to ‘Destiny Rescue’ – Child Rescue’s name in New Zealand until August 2017.