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Man rescues sex trafficking victims, expands efforts across Latin America

After paying the required $20 entry free, I walked inside and asked one of the girls to sit with me for dinner. I sat across the table from her, and I witnessed the terror in her eyes. She remained tense and alert, rubbing her hands together nervously while reacting to every step and sound around us. Her fear felt like my own. Empathy surged inside me.

  • 1 month ago
  • June 21, 2024
7 min read
Tyler Schwab fights child prostitution through Libertas International, an NGO he has led since 2014, aiding sexual exploitation victims in Latin America. | Photo courtesy of Tyler Schwab Tyler Schwab fights child prostitution through Libertas International, an NGO he has led since 2014, aiding sexual exploitation victims in Latin America. | Photo courtesy of Tyler Schwab
Tyler Schwab, a U.S. missionary who fights against child prostitution
JOURNALIST’S NOTES
INTERVIEW SUBJECT
Tyler Schwab runs an NGO called Libertas International since 2014. He works with victims of sexual exploitation in Latin America. His nonprofit, based in Afton, Wyoming, helps execute recovery missions and supports the immediate and long-term needs of sex trafficking survivors.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION
Tyler Schwab of Afton, Wyoming has been honored by the Colombian government for his work in helping more than 3,000 children, and rescuing hundreds, from American pedophiles. His organization targets Americans who travel to Colombia to engage in sexual exploitation of minors. Libertas International is a nonprofit corporation operating exclusively for educational and charitable purposes. Their mission is to recover victims through intervention and to rehabilitate survivors of human trafficking in Latin America through empowerment and aftercare.

Read more about NGO’s work: LIBERTAS INTERNATIONAL

WYOMING, United States — At 19 years old, during a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I stayed in the Dominican Republic. There, I encountered the most terrifying aspect of tourism: sex trafficking. Initially, I blamed the women and girls for their sexualized appearance, holding them responsible for their situation. However, after hearing their stories, I learned they were victims, not volunteers, in this distressing life. Families, traffickers, and others forced them into it. These women and girls encountered people who lie, deceive, threaten, and sell human beings.

The digital world today deeply exploits children. When I encountered a case of a mother who sold her five- and seven-year-old daughters online I felt appalled. She used a Facebook group, treating her daughters like merchandise in a digital storefront. I witnessed a 12-year-old girl trafficked at a public swimming pool by a neighbor and a 10-year-old old girl sold by her brother to friends and predators. Her repeated abuse broke my heart. These incidents burden my conscious and challenge me to fully grasp the cruelty directed at innocent children.

Sadly, these are not isolated incidents. They reflect a norm, driven by poverty and desperation. A need to survive can push people down a sinister path. Witnessing this reality, I refused to stand by and do nothing. Compelled to act, I found a way to alleviate suffering and prevent others from enduring the horrors of sex trafficking. In 2014, I established the non-profit Gifts of God, which has since evolved into Libertas International.

Read more stories from around the globe in the Sex & Gender category from Orato World Media.

Man sells belongings to return to Dominican Republic, help sex trafficking victims 

When I made the decision to fight sex trafficking, I knew I needed to return to the Dominican Republic to start the project. I sold all my belongings and purchased a plane ticket. Sketching out my goals, I sought to meet victims and survivors, to understand this grim reality and identify patterns and factors that lead to the exploitation of women.

In the Dominican Republic, I entered a grim new world where people placed no value on life. My first destination was a notorious night club known to sell young girls. Stepping inside, nervousness gripped me. My hand began to sweat, and my breathing quickened. I had no idea how the girls and the traffickers would behave.

Nervously, I approached the owner and said I only wanted to talk to the girls. Mistaking me for a detective, he promptly threw me out. In those first moments, I decided to offer him what he valued most: money. After paying the required $20 entry free, I walked inside and asked one of the girls to sit with me for dinner. I sat across the table from her, and I witnessed the terror in her eyes. She remained tense and alert, rubbing her hands together nervously while reacting to every step and sound around us. Her fear felt like my own. Empathy surged inside me.

Sex trafficking in Latin America devastates young lives through exploitation and dire circumstances. | Photo courtesy of Tyler Schwab

I quickly assured her I had no intention of engaging her in sexual activities. Rather, I wanted to listen to her story and offer help. Her tension eased and she relaxed her shoulders, breathing calmly. She realized I posed no threat and began recounting her harrowing journey to this club. It was only her second night there.

Fighting sex trafficking across Latin America 

Born to a conservative Catholic family, this girl lived a sheltered life. When she began to seek employment, she arrived at the club for a job as a waitress. On her first night, the owner revealed her actual job – to service clients sexually. The owner issued a threat. If she refused, he would hurt her mother and younger sister.

Concerned about her family’s safety, the girl described experiencing immense fear. The owner exploited her innocence and began forcing her to watch explicit content in preparation. She said it quickly became the darkest period of her life. After our dinner, I intended to return the next day to help her get out, but she disappeared.

Pimps commonly move girls to different clubs and brothels to obscure their location. Hundreds of scenarios raced through my mind. The fear and desperation I saw in her eyes haunted me, and I knew I needed to do something, not just for her but for all victims. We expanded our efforts across Latin America, collaborating with local governmental actors in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Guatemala, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, and Honduras. 

During my trip to Guatemala, I explored an area known as La Linea, situated along the train tracks. In this desolate place, women of various ages used small houses as workplaces, turning to prostitution amidst extreme poverty and despair. They suffered from venereal diseases like syphilis, gonorrhea, and herpes. We provided them with medical treatment.

Walking through La Linea, the harsh wind and swirling dust from the dry earth enveloped me. With each step, I encountered a face, a body, a story. It pained me to think that no one tried to help or rescue these women, nor consider the systematic violations they endured. Every moment shattered my soul.

The road to recovery: rescuing victims and rebuilding lives 

In Colombia, I encountered a 13-year-old girl captured and trafficked. I handed her a piece of paper with my phone number on it. A potential key to escape, she folded the paper and hid it. For weeks, she kept the note concealed until she mustered the courage to call. The moment I answered, I embarked on a fierce mission to rescue her.

Now 18 years old, this young woman graduated from high school and is pursuing a career as a social worker. She rebuilt her life and dared to dream. Last week, the United Nations invited me to speak on sex trafficking, and in July, she will join me at the UN where we will raise our voices for victims and survivors.

In another case, Angad Amit Beharry, a 46-year-old American policeman, abused a 19-month-old baby sexually. He convinced the mother to record explicit content of her daughter and sell it to foreign pedophiles. The mother agreed to the sum of money, undressed, and videotaped the sexual acts she committed with her daughter. She then distributed the videos on various platforms and websites. The stories I encounter cause victims deep psychological and physical scars, some of which are permanent.

The stories go on. I remember a man named Haven Edward Antoine Cates III who not only raped minors but coerced them into tattooing his name on their bodies. As part of our intervention, we helped the victims remove the tattoos. 

My work, while somber, fuels my passion. Connecting with survivors sustains me. On the wall of my office, I hang photographs, drawings, and letters from the victims. Among them is a framed note with my phone number – the one I gave to that 13-year-old girl. That crumpled piece of paper symbolizes hope. As my eyes weave through the collage on the walls, it creates a map of love and resilience, marked by the smiling faces of girls. 

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