HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah --
Human trafficking became a stark reality for Hill Air Force Base personnel at an awareness breakfast held last week at the base chapel where Doug Osmond, VP of Development for Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.), spoke about the 608 victims they have rescued around the world and their assistance in the arrests of more than 275 traffickers in the past two years of the organization’s existence.
With over 2 million children being held against their will as sex slaves, Osmond said sex trafficking is one of the most criminal enterprises on the planet. It hits close to home with 10,000 to 15,000 children imported into the United States as sex slaves every year. “It is a horrific problem to combat, but it is an absolute evil that needs to be stopped. Everyone can do something to help,” Osmond said.
It’s not just a problem abroad either, he said, sharing an incident that happened recently in Bountiful. “A house used for child trafficking was two doors down from the sheriff’s office, who had no idea it was happening on his street. It’s happening right here in Utah,” Osmond said.
While introducing Osmond, Col. Dana Pelletier with the 75th Mission Support Group mentioned a trafficking operation that was discovered just a few months ago in Midvale, Utah, where 71 people suspected of human trafficking were arrested. “Thousands of victims are subjected to heinous crimes under threatening conditions, crimes not just somewhere else,” Pelletier said. “It’s here, and it’s not just important to be aware of it. It’s more important we say something if we see something.”
Hill AFB Sexual Response Assault Coordinator Edith Davis says it is especially important for military personnel who are traveling abroad during TDYs and deployments to take notice of situations that may involve human trafficking. “When we go out and see something that doesn’t seem right, like a child or an adult who looks is fearful, anxious, or nervous. Another example might be if someone is not allowed or able to speak for themselves--for example a third party may insist on being present and/or translating. We need to be able to recognize such situations as potential sex slavery, and report it to the proper authorities,” Davis said.
Osmond has seen some of their operations first hand, noting that traffickers seem like normal people. “They don’t look like bad guys. They are people you’d want to hang out with — happy, nice, and some of them even women,” Osmond said. During one of the rescue operations, sex traffickers were negotiating prices for the 20 girls and 6 boys in attendance while Osmond took care of the kids. “There were two little girls who were sitting in the corner shaking and crying. They wanted nothing to do with me. I was undercover, but I remember looking at those girls wishing I could tell them I wasn’t a bad guy and that we were there to help them.” Since their rescue, the children are thriving in after-care operations set up by O.U.R.
During another operation by O.U.R., Osmond witnessed the rescue of little children in the middle of a human sacrifice. “There were three and four-year-olds scarred and mutilated beyond description, but they had so much joy and light in their eyes as we helped them,” Osmond said. “It if looks and smells like something is wrong, it is probably trafficking. Follow your gut because it will lead you in the right direction.”
Operation Underground Railroad hopes that with enough support and growth, they can eradicate human trafficking. For more information, visit http://ourrescue.org/.