Listen: Destiny Rescue founder Tony Kirwan talks to Hope Media’s Emma Mullings.
Sammy* is a happy 17-year-old who works in a restaurant; Nataya* is a motivated young woman who runs a own hair salon; and Fon* is a mum who owns a noodle bar, a sewing business, and her own home.
It’s hard to believe all of these vibrant women were once child victims of human trafficking and sexual abuse. These are just some of the thousands of success stories being written by Destiny Rescue – an organisation that exists to end child sex slavery.
Each of these young women was rescued by Destiny Rescue out of brothels, karaoke bars and other abusive environments in places like Cambodia, Thailand and Laos.
Tony Kirwan, Destiny Rescue’s founder, is in Australia this month to promote his organisation and host a fundraising dinner. As part of his tour he spoke to Hope Media’s Emma Mullings.
The Conversation That Sparked A Rescue Mission
It was while Mr Kirwan was doing volunteer work in Thailand, that he heard the story that would change his life forever.
“I heard someone tell a story of a guy going through Bangkok, and he was offered children for sale, for $400 USD outright, and he could do anything he wanted to them,” he said.
“That just blew me away. I’d never heard of people buying people — let alone men buying children to do all these yucky things to. And I just knew I had to do something.”
Mr Kirwan, who had already been asking God about doing something greater with his life, established what is now an internationally recognised, Christian-based non-profit organisation.
They now have over 200 full-time staff working to rescue and rehabilitate children in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Philippines, India and the Dominican Republic.
The first step in Destiny Rescue’s work is to send agents into red light areas and find children who are underage and in need of rescue.
Mr Kirwan said the aim of rescue workers is to go unnoticed.
“We’re not a bunch of “Rambos” kicking doors down, guns blazing, throw the kid over our shoulder, run for the front door,” he said.
“We want to be under the radar so we can go back as many times as we need to to get all the kids. We operate within the law, and we gain the trust and the children choose to leave with us.
“If we did it the other way we’d be kidnapping.”
Once a child is identified, the next step is to build a trusting friendship.
We’re not a bunch of “Rambos” kicking doors down… We gain trust, and the children choose to leave with us…
~ Tony Kirwan
“We go into a brothel, sit down and just look around, and try and identify someone that’s under age, and if there is someone we’ll call them over to sit with us,” he said.
“To the brothel owner we want to look like a normal customer. We don’t want to stand out. But to that child, when she sits next to us, the second she sits down, we want her to think, “this guy’s not the same as every other creep I’ve had to sit next to”.
“We have very clear touch policies. So we never touch them poorly or allow them to touch us poorly. We basically treat them like our daughters, our sisters. And by doing that, we stand out really fast, to the child, that we are different.
“Because sadly, in those places you see so many men behaving so poorly in front of everybody. Those kids are used to being abused even before they get into the bedroom.
“We go back there multiple times, just showing them every time we’re exactly the same good guy that she sat with the first time. If you don’t have that trust, she won’t believe that what you’re offering is real.”
Once trust is built, the rescue worker will take the girl somewhere away from the brothel, where they offer to take them out of the sex-work environment.
Rescue Raids That Save Many Children At Once
Destiny Rescue also works with local police, gathering intelligence, in order to set up raids in which several children may be rescued at once.
“The good thing about working with the police is you get people arrested, put in jail, and brothels shut down, which is always pretty cool,” Mr Kirwan said.
However there is one obstacle that gets in the way of raids being successful: corruption.
“Sadly at pretty much all the places that we work in, corruption is a real problem,” Mr Kirwan said. “Historically two out of every three raids fail because the police call the brothel owners before they come, and give them the heads up.
“But the fact that we’re still getting one out of three, it’s worth doing.”
The Pain Of Leaving A Child Behind
Mr Kirwin said it’s painful having to walk away from a girl who doesn’t yet trust Destiny Rescue’s workers enough to leave a brothel.
“As a dad, that really, really messes with me, knowing that once I’ve left, some other guy is going to call that kid over and sit with her, or sit with him, and he’s not going to be a good guy, he is going to touch her badly, and there’s a very good chance he’ll take her away and do so much worse,” he said.
“But you have to hang on the hope that she will come out at some point. We never give up. I’ve had girls who have taken over two or three years before we’ve actually gotten them out.
“The other factor is often the parents are playing a big role and sometimes the parents won’t allow them to leave. You’re fighting the battle on many fronts.”
How Young Lives Are Rebuilt
When children agree to go with a rescue worker, they are taken to one of Destiny Rescue’s many group homes, where they spend months or years being counselled, educated and given vocational training.
Each child is encouraged by their case worker to come up with life goals and dreams for their future.
“Many times, the child has been groomed to go into the sex trade and they don’t even think about “what could I really do with my life?”,” Mr Kirwan said.
“Once that kid knows what they want, the case worker will map out a little life-plan of how they’re going to get there, what education level and all that sort of stuff, and help them work towards that.“
They also have group therapy, art therapy, and other forms of rehabilitation so that once they leave the program, they are able to function normally in society.
The Long Term Vision
Already Destiny Rescue has rescued around 1000 children from the sex industry since 2011, with a vision to rescue 100,000 by the year 2020.
Mr Kirwan’s goal is to not only put a dent in the numbers of children trafficked each year (1.2 million according to UNICEF), but to change attitudes worldwide.
He does this by speaking with leaders, influencers and media outlets to spread the message about child trafficking.
Destiny Rescue’s Greatest Need
Watch: The Adopt-A-Home program. *The main character in this video is an actress.
Destiny Rescue’s greatest need is now for ongoing sponsorship to help rehabilitate their rescued children.
Funds can also be raised by purchasing jewellery, holding a jewellery party, or even by motorbike riding across South East Asia, in the Ride For Freedom.
There are also opportunities for corporate sponsors, schools, youth groups and teams.
On Thursday, October 8, Destiny Rescue will host a free, ticketed event called Everyday Heroes, sponsored by SageCo. Jenny Stanger from the Salvation Army will speak about the issue of human trafficking in the world today.
The dinner is from 6pm to 8pm at Level 20, 56 Pitt Street, Sydney, and seats are limited. Register your seat via the Eventbrite app.
* Names have been changed to protect childrens’ identity.