Entering a large house party in the spring of 2023, Undercover Operators of Lantern’s Counter Human Trafficking team were shocked to find over 30 children, aged 13 to 15, present. This was no ordinary gathering of innocent youth. This was far more. Amid the drinking and smoking was the sexual exploitation of these minors by the adults around them.
The operators, knowing they must intervene quickly, created a plan that would not only allow for rescue but also the arrest of these perpetrators. Guided by their unwavering determination, the operators devised an operation to force the traffickers’ hand.
Their first breakthrough came from two courageous minors who had managed to escape this exclusive tourist area within the Dominican Republic. Armed with this vital information, the operators decided to host a party of their own, luring the traffickers into their trap. They made contact with the traffickers, convincing them to bring more minors to a party they would be hosting in a rented vacation home.
As the party unfolded, two of the traffickers arrived with nine minors. Local authorities swiftly apprehended them, seizing both alcohol and condoms the traffickers had brought with them. The recovery of these victims also provided crucial leads, enabling the team to locate and rescue five additional victims.
“They got sixteen but we know that more are out there. It’s an unfortunate reality of this work. Sometimes we’re waiting forever to get all of them and we get none. We have to go when the time is right and get as many as we can but we NEVER stop looking for the rest.” – Ren; Co-founder of Lantern Rescue
During the investigation, a chilling truth emerged – the traffickers were advertising their victims to Americans. While locals were also involved in the exploitation, American tourists played a significant role in the trade of minors for commercial sex acts. Upon their arrest, the traffickers were found in possession of 75,000 Dominican Pesos (USD 1,321), further evidence of their illegal activities. Both traffickers, identified as leaders of the organization, now face charges of sexual exploitation involving 16 minors aged 13 to 17.
One of the traffickers, acting as a Romeo pimp, employed a sickening tactic to groom his victims. He would manipulate young girls into falling in love with him through social media, gradually escalating the relationship until he convinced them to send him explicit photos. Armed with these compromising images, he would then threaten to expose them to their families and peers unless they complied with his demands, keeping their communication a secret (commonly termed as “sextortion”).
The victims were trapped in a web of fear and manipulation, forced to endure unimaginable suffering while acting as if everything was fine.
Each day these young girls would wake up and get dressed in the morning in their school uniforms, have breakfast with their siblings, and kiss their parents goodbye.
Instead of heading to school to learn and be with friends, they would go directly to their traffickers where they were then dispersed to various locations and clients, being subjected to unspeakable exploitation and abuse.
The traffickers’ methods were insidious, with the head being an older man who even resorted to raping his own niece and coercing her into bringing other girls from school to his house under false pretenses.
He would offer these new girls “jobs” at a picturesque tourist resort in the province. Once the young girls arrived at the resort, they were exploited by foreign clients driven by dark desires and twisted pleasures.
“These girls went home at night. Not every victim is in chains. Some go home and then they go back to their traffickers the next day. Some can even be trafficked out of their own home.” – Agent F; Counter Human Trafficking Team
These traffickers coerced and sexually exploited dozens of girls for sums of money ranging between $150 and $175 US dollars, transporting them to their abusers at various hours of the day, including when the victims should have been in school learning alongside their peers.
“They were crying. They wanted out but with the low-income households they came from and the bad neighborhood they lived in, they also saw money as a reason to stay. The small amounts of money or objects given helped the traffickers continue to seduce them into doing what they wanted them to do.” – Agent F; Counter Human Trafficking Team
These heartless criminals preyed on the vulnerability of these girls, exploiting their gender, socioeconomic status, and age. They manipulated them with money and material possessions, causing unimaginable psychological damage.
The aftermath of Operation House has left survivors with not only emotional scars but also severe medical needs. Among them, one brave survivor fights for her life, determined to overcome the darkness that once consumed her.
“One thing we do know is that her choice, whether she wants to have children one day, if she does survive, has been taken away from her by predators who will never even know her name.” – Ren; Co-founder Lantern Rescue
Another survivor, beaten severely was recovered with both physical and emotional wounds and scars that she’ll be forced to carry forever.
Sexual exploitation and abuse can have devastating effects on victims, both physically and emotionally. The use of force, violence, and the transmission of STDs can have a profound impact on victims’ overall health and their ability to have healthy sexual and reproductive relationships in the future. The trauma experienced can lead to long-lasting emotional scars and put survivors on a difficult journey toward healing. It’s crucial that we address these issues and provide support for those who have been affected by sexual trauma.
It hasn’t been an easy journey for the survivors rescued, but we’re doing everything in our power to care for them. They need your prayers for strength, healing, and a sustainable future.
These survivors have dreams and aspirations for their future, including careers that will help others. Some want to study cosmetology, while others hope to earn law degrees. No matter what they choose, we’re committed to standing by them and fighting for their success. Join us in supporting these brave survivors on their journey to recovery.
Operation House is a raid that was conducted in June of 2023 in a province of the Dominican Republic as part of ongoing investigations to dismantle networks dedicated to human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. This operation included The Specialized Prosecutor’s Office against Illicit Trafficking of Migrants and Human Trafficking (PETT), The Prosecutors Office of *** (Redacted for Operational Security), and The Anti-Trafficking Bureau (ATB) – a division of Lantern Rescue’s Counter Human Trafficking Team in the Caribbean.