A network of traffickers in Latin America ensnared vulnerable migrants escaping the instability of Venezuela. Once the young women were caught, the traffickers held them in sex work with a cruel demand: in order to leave, they had to find two others to take their place.
Daniela was just 14 when she was lured from her home.
A crumbling economy and gang violence made wariness a way of life in Venezuela. Daniela watched her family and neighbors do whatever they could to survive.
She was 14 when she got a text from a friend she had not heard from in months. “Hey, want a job?” the text asked. “I know you always wanted to try modeling!!”
It would be easy, her friend said. The modeling job was in a neighboring country, but a talent agent would send someone to take care of the travel arrangements.
This is it, Daniela thought. This is my chance to survive.
The car that rolled up beside the curb had dark tinted windows. Daniela slid into the backseat, barely noticing the metallic click when the doors locked.
The trip passed in a blur. Daniela was nervous, but she told herself: I have nothing to fear. Eventually, the car stopped beside a suburban home hemmed in by a tall fence. This doesn’t look like a modeling agency.
Inside, Daniela found herself in a dim hallway. Almost immediately, a brisk woman came and guided her into a side room with no windows. The only furnishing was a starkly-made bed. When the woman gave plain, matter-of-fact directions about what Daniela would be doing, the needles of anxiety grew into a piercing sword of terror.
The first man arrived. He was much older than Daniela. She was still hoping it couldn’t be true as he closed the door behind him.
Two years passed. Instead of the hopeful 14-year-old she once was, at 16 Daniela had endured the repeated trauma of being sold for sex to strangers. The only way out was made clear to her: you can leave when you find two other girls to take your place.
She didn’t know that anyone was coming. But The Exodus Road’s investigators were coming. Freedom was coming.
In 6 months of high-risk investigation, members of The Exodus Road’s Latin American team spoke with Daniela and the other girls in her situation. They were deeply moved by the impossible circumstances these girls endured. This heartbreak fueled them through months of dangerous reconnaissance and weeks away from family.
All of the sacrifices paid off one day in December. With the information The Exodus Road’s team collected, along with evidence from another nonprofit, multiple police departments mobilized in Operation Escondida. Splitting into two teams, police and investigators flooded the brothels, including the suburban house where Daniela had spent two years being sold for sex.
In addition to Daniela, they found one other teenage girl and 16 young women between the ages of 18 and 23. They also rescued two girls under the age of 8 from the brothels, children of the trafficked women.
All but two of the young women were trafficked from Venezuela, stranded in a country far from home. The women bravely gave statements to the police, and social workers arranged for the survivors to be transferred to aftercare services.
Meanwhile, 15 traffickers were arrested: 12 women and 3 men. They denied the charges, but the evidence against the traffickers was irrefutable.
Operation Escondida was a triumph for freedom. Thanks to the dedication of The Exodus Road’s community — from the investigators to the donors who fund their work — justice is coming to places of exploitation.
The Exodus Road’s teams of national investigators won’t stop until they’ve found more of these sons and daughters, continuing with the same tenacity that set these 20 girls and women free. Over the past decade, The Exodus Road’s teams have participated in freeing over 1,700 individuals from the terror of human trafficking. With prevention and education initiatives and growing aftercare initiatives, The Exodus Road is committed to dismantling modern-day slavery at every level.
You can learn more by visiting https://theexodusroad.com/.