Category "USA"

ZOE Los Angeles First Quarter Update

March 21, 2022

ZOE Advocacy Program

Thanks to you, our donors and partners, the children that ZOE serves in our Advocacy Program, and our ZOE Home for Youth experienced a wonderful Christmas, being reminded that they are loved and valued. More than 50 children in our Advocacy Program received items from their wishlists, gift cards, Christmas stockings full of gifts, and more, all donated! The holidays can often be a painful time for our children as they long to be with family they can’t be with or long to have a family of their own, often leading them to hurt themselves or engage in harmful activities. The youth were reminded by you how loved and precious they are. One child received a keyboard she requested to practice piano. Another child received a nail kit set to practice nail design, part of her future vocational goals. These are healthy activities to bring joy and positive coping skills. 

ZOE Home for Youth

At ZOE’s Home for Youth, the girls were all giddy for Christmas. “They asked if they could open their Christmas gifts at midnight instead of waiting until Christmas morning,” said Vickie McCoy, ZOE’s Residential Manager. As they opened the gifts they received, they screamed with excitement. The youth shared, “I have never received this many gifts before!” Material gifts cannot fill the pain and holes left by the trauma and abuse they have experienced, but celebrations with staff and each other, meaningful conversations, and messages of hope created a sense of family and belonging that they have not experienced in a long time or ever before.

Thank you to all our donors, churches, and partners who made this Christmas so special! 

Operation Reclaim and Rebuild

Operation Reclaim and RebuildAs part of the LA Regional Human Trafficking Task Force, ZOE partners with law enforcement, social workers, and other government and community agencies to help recover children from human trafficking and provide ongoing support to the children and families.

In February, ZOE took part in a week-long state-wide effort to combat human trafficking called Operation Reclaim and Rebuild. Sixty-five adult and 7 minor victims were recovered, 182 males were arrested for soliciting prostitution, and 30 suspected traffickers and exploiters were arrested.

We applaud the LA Regional Human Trafficking Task Force for doing a great job arresting traffickers and recovering victims of human trafficking during this week-long operation. “We need our police force to help us end child trafficking,” said Dave.

Please join with us and pray the survivors get the support they need and those who exploited others get the justice and resources they need to stop hurting others.

ZOE East Coast Helps Launch Pennsylvania Human Trafficking Task Force

March 21, 2022

On January 11th, which was National Human Trafficking Awareness Da, the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Human Trafficking Task Force was launched. ZOE International is privileged to be a part of this task force. Our East Coast staff was a vital part of conducting the research and building the structure for the task force, which is composed of three components: 1. law enforcement and prosecution, 2. victim restorative services, 3. community outreach.

Lancaster County DA SealOver the past year, members of ZOE conducted interviews and garnished data from Pennsylvania human trafficking task forces and implemented ZOE International’s global best practices to craft the structure of the task force. Data from the US State Department’s Trafficking In Person’s (TIP) report and the Department of Justice/Office of Victims of Crime’s human trafficking task force suggestions were also implemented. The Lancaster County District Attorney’s Human Trafficking task force is a comprehensive array of supporting services with a victim-centered approach for trafficking victims. This task force also will be beneficial in prosecuting traffickers in Lancaster County.

ZOE Advocacy Graduations

November 12, 2021

In 2019, ZOE was awarded a contract with Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services to provide advocacy services for children who are victims of sex trafficking or highly at risk of becoming victims.

When law enforcement recovers a child from sex trafficking in the North LA County area, they will call ZOE to respond within 90 minutes to provide victim advocacy support alongside a social worker. Or when a social worker or probation officer believes the child they are serving is a victim of sex trafficking or highly at risk of becoming a victim, they can request a ZOE Advocate to come alongside that youth to build relationship with to help the youth toward goals of safety, well-being, self-sufficiency, and a permanent home.

In 2020, ZOE served 112 youth through this program.These youth are served by an amazing team of about 12 ZOE Advocates including Case Managers, Survivor Advocates who have experienced and overcome commercial sexual exploitation themselves, and aParent Advocate whose child has recovered from sex trafficking.
Advocates’ primary focus in the beginning is to help the youth feel safe emotionally and physically. Many times, youth are in the midst of being controlled, influenced, threatened by traffickers so Advocates learn about the youth’s current circumstances; immediate physical, emotional, social, and other needs; and help the youth problem-solve their very dangerous situations. Through weekly in-person meetings, meals, healthy activities, and simply doing “life” together, Advocates become a mentor and safe person for youth to reach out to in times of need. Advocates spend most of their time on the field driving as far north as Lancaster, as far south as Long Beach, and as far east as Pomona.
ZOE is able to provide formal support up to a year and a half. For youth who complete the program, ZOE hosts a graduation celebration to honor their achievements and strengths. Due to COVID, ZOE had our first graduation in March 2021 and have since had two more graduations. We anticipate hosting approximately

five or six graduations a year.

At the graduations, youth are able to share any words of reflection from the past year while Advocates are able to praise them for their accomplishments. It is always an emotional, encouraging time to remember how far the youth have come. Youth have shared:
“I want to say thank you to my Advocates because if I didn’t have ZOE, I don’t think I would be here today. I think I would be in a very dangerous situation.”

“Looking at myself and comparing it to back then, I’m a completely different person. I know when I’m mad to talk to someone and use my communication. And I know how to have situations in a positive manner. I’m thankful for people who helped me through it all, every step of the way. But all the hard work was from me but I couldn’t have done it without the comfort, the motivation from my Advocate who has helped me in all the ways that she could. To all the Advocates and just the ZOE program in general, I personally would like to say that I appreciate all of you for changing this path and helping kids to thrive.”

At our most recent graduation in August 2021, a youth and his ZOE Advocate shared about how he struggled to engage in the beginning of the program. But with the persistent efforts and care of the Advocate, he began to meet, improve his relationship with his mother, and began to complete school assignments. He also shared about his dream to open his own clothing business. ZOE took him

 on outings to visit the fashion district, interview a business owner, and create a design for his own clothing line with a graphic designer. At the graduation, ZOE was able to present him with a tshirt and sweatshirt with his design. It was a physical representation and reminder of all the hard work he did in the program.

In addition, our Parent Advocate was also able to honor parents who participated in ZOE’s program by encouraging them to continue to love their children unconditionally and support them intheir journey toward healing.

Ongoingly, if individuals, organizations, or businesses wish to support the children served in ZOE’s Advocacy Program, the following are always in need:

  • Updated Amazon wishlist: https://a.co/elZDNLZ
  • Gift cards for birthday/graduation/baby shower celebrations or meals with Advocates: Starbucks, McDonalds, Wingstop, Panda Express, Subway, Chick Fil A, Michaels, Amazon, Ulta Beauty, Sephora, Target, Walmart, Foot Locker, Bath & Body, Uber
  • Grocery gift cards: Food for Less, Albertsons, Vons, Ralphs
  • Snacks: Fruit flavored cans of Arizona Iced Tea, cans/bottles of Coke, spicy chips, cup o noodles, Goldfish crackers
  • Help with special events (baby shower, graduations, shopping for gifts on child’s Christmas wishlist)
  • Church groups all over LA County willing to be trained to minister to some of our families who have basic needs and that we can connect our families to.
  • Be on emergency needs list: We can reach out when we have an urgent need if they are able to help
  • Vehicles/drivers to delivery donated furniture
  • Hosting support groups and events at safe settings like churches
  • Meals for support groups

We are so thankful for community, business, and church partners who have helped ZOE meet the needs of these precious children, including:

  • First and last month’s rent deposit to relocate in order to escape threats from traffickers
  • Extensive dental treatment allowing a youth to smile for the first time in two years after the loss of her front teeth from an assault
  • Emergency cell phones for youth to contact ZOE in crisis
  • Emergency hotel stay for 18+ youth who are escaping traffickers
  • Uber rides for 18+ youth who need last-minute transportation to their job or to escape traffickers
  • Furniture for families whose child is returning home after being reunified

ZOE’s Advocacy Program in Los Angeles

November 2, 2021
Through ZOE’s Advocacy Program in Los Angeles, we serve children and families who have been impacted by human trafficking or highly at risk of trafficking. We are so thankful for our amazing partners who provide opportunities and experiences for the children we serve. Recently, ZOE partnered with New Dawn Foundation to provide an experience with horses, which has been found to be therapeutic and healing for survivors of trauma and trafficking.
Most of the teens were excited to walk the ponies, pet and brush them, and even guide them through obstacles. Later, the group had time to process what everyone was feeling and thinking.
In one instance, a teen was hesitant to engage. A pony continued to walk over to her, brush up against her, trying to get her attention. Eventually, the teen pet it gently and participated in the next activity. At the end of the day, the youth whispered:
“I loved it.”
If you would like to learn more about how you can be a part of the healing and restoration of the children ZOE serves, contact info@gozoe.org.

ZOE USA receives license to open ZOE Home for Youth in Los Angeles

September 17, 2021

We are so excited to have finally received our license to open the ZOE Home for Youth (ZHY). “From 2016, when we closed escrow and submitted our plans to receiving our license to open, God has been guiding us, answering prayers and performing miracles along the way,” said Vickie McCoy, ZHY Residential Manager.

Eight Lancaster County Men Win the 2021 Ultra-Cycling Event, Race Across America

July 14, 2021

On June 25, 2021, eight cyclists from Lancaster County and twelve crew members, all representing ZOE International, finished first place in the non-stop, 3,000-mile transcontinental relay race from California to Maryland, Race Across America (RAAM).

The 2021 RAAM consisted of 7, 8-man cycling teams and 17 teams of 2, 4, and 8, along with 12 solo racers. The ZOE cycling team completed the race in 6 days and 27 minutes with an average speed of 21.03 mph while climbing over 100,000+ feet.

“After competing in 2019, we knew our limitations and capabilities and thought we might have a chance to win this year,” shared Brad. “We set out to do our race and not let the competitors set the race for us. We knew we couldn’t make a mistake. So we plugged all the gaps we had in 2019, and we trained a lot harder this year. Ultimately, we capitalized on the experience we had from 2019 to win the race in 2021!”

For 39 years, the RAAM has become a global icon, challenging ultra-cyclists from over 35 countries to push their physical and mental limits to the utmost. RAAM has also become an enormous platform for cyclists to raise funds for charities that they hold close to their hearts. Each year, RAAM cyclists raise over 10 million dollars in donations, dispersed to multiple charities.

In 2019, the 8-man cyclist team placed third and raised over $175,000 for ZOE International.

ZOE RAAM Team cyclists at the finish line winning first place

ZOE RAAM Team cyclists at the finish line winning first place

This year the team raised over $350,000 for ZOE International. The issue of child sex trafficking is an issue that is close to the team’s heart. “The idea to compete in this race all began when I first traveled to ZOE International in Thailand in 2014,” said Brad Ortenzi, ZOE International Eastern US Regional Director and Race Across America Director and Cyclist.

“While visiting the home for children who have been trafficked at ZOE Thailand, I was inspired by the children’s fight. Every one of them was a fighter – fighting to get their life back. Contact: Brad Ortenzi (717) 708-8109- cell brad@goZOE.org Lonna Gibson (661) 388-1295 lonna@goZOE.org – Continued – Lonna Gibson (661) 388-1295 lonna@goZOE.org Their fight inspired me and changed my life. Competing in the Race Across America allows ZOE to take this fight against child sex trafficking across the United States.”

The eight-man cycling team included Nate Eakin, Matt Lapp, Allen Fisher, Sam Lapp, Elmer Fisher, Jonathan Fisher, Allan Fisher, and Brad Ortenzi – all from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Many team members began training as early as the Fall of 2020, putting in the hours on stationary bikes, riding outdoors, strength training, and swimming.

Cyclist Allan Fisher added, “I wasn’t aware of human trafficking happening in the states. ZOE is bringing freedom to many children, and I want to stand with them because I believe in what they are doing.”

Not only do the cyclists compete in the race, but they also have a goal to raise $20,000 each for ZOE International.

“It costs about $70,000 for us to compete in the race, including the entrance fee, uniforms, helmets, fuel, and travel,” said Brad. “Any additional monies raised over the cost of expenses are donated to ZOE International to help rescue more children and care for and restore the rescued children entrusted in their care.”

Current sponsors for ZOE’s RAAM team are Breeo, Country Lane Gazebos, Weaver Construction, Lapp Structures, Sensenig’s Feed Mill, Select Carpentry, Earthsource, Fisher Brothers, Eagle Rental, Urban Southern, TLS Carpentry, US Boiler Company, Lititz VFW, Lancaster Bike Shop, Bicycle Barn and Campaign Against Sexual Exploitation (CASE).

Locally, Brad is also the Coordinator for the Lancaster County Task Force working alongside the District Attorney’s office and is a few months away from officially launching. The Lancaster County Human Trafficking Task Force will investigate, prosecute, and find restorative paths for trafficking survivors within Lancaster County. This will also include community outreach with prevention education and awareness of trafficking.

ZOE International was founded in 2002 with a mission to reach every person with God’s love and rescue every child from human trafficking through prevention, rescue, and restoration efforts in the USA, Thailand, Mexico, Japan, and Australia. More information about ZOE International can be found at goZOE.org and the 2021 Race Across America at www.raceacrossamerica.org.

Contact:

Brad Ortenzi (717) 708-8109- cell brad@goZOE.org

Lonna Gibson (661) 388-1295 lonna@goZOE.org

Lancaster Cycling Team Prepares for Race Across America RAAM

June 14, 2021

8 Lancaster County cyclists prepare for 3,000-mile bike race to raise $250K to fight sex trafficking

Erik Yabor – Staff Writer

A group of Lancaster County residents are preparing to set off on a 3,000 mile bike trek to raise money for an international nonprofit that combats child sex trafficking. An eight-man relay team and 12 crew members depart from Oceanside, California, on Saturday with a plan of arriving in Annapolis, Maryland, less than a week later as part of Race Across America (RAAM), an annual ultra-endurance cycling race that spans the United States. 

Brad Ortenzi and other ZOE bike riders“It is a race,” said team leader Brad Ortenzi, 53, a former Ephrata police detective who served for 20 years, “but it’s more of a platform for nonprofits and cyclists to either raise awareness for a project or to raise funds for charities.” RAAM cyclists raise more than $10 million each year for their charities of choice, according to the organization’s website. The Lancaster County team’s sponsored charity, ZOE International, is focused on helping survivors of child sex trafficking across the globe.

“ZOE is bringing freedom to many children, and I want to stand with them because I believe in what they are doing,” said team member Allan Fisher, 33, of Gordonville.

Ortenzi, ZOE’s Eastern U.S. Regional Director, has been involved with the faith-based international nonprofit with operations in five countries since 2014, when he visited their refuge house in Thailand to meet with child survivors of sex trafficking. “Every one of them was a fighter – fighting to get their life back,” he said. “Their fight inspired me and changed my life. Competing in the Race Across America allows ZOE to take this fight against child sex trafficking across the United States.” The Lancaster County team’s goal this year is to raise $250,000 for ZOE, with more than $198,000 already raised, according to ZOE International’s website.

Children’s stories motivate mission

Ortenzi had been working undercover online seeking out traders of child pornography, a job he described as “heartcrushing” work, when he began looking for a new career he could take on post-retirement. It was Ortenzi’s pastor who suggested that he reach out to ZOE, believing he would be a natural fit due to his background in law enforcement. “It was clear from the beginning that Brad has a passion for justice,” said Brian Flewelling, a pastor at Petra Church in Earl Township, which Ortenzi has attended since 2012. “He has a skillset that is unique to anyone else in the field.” Flewelling helped facilitate a meeting between Ortenzi and a person who was connected with leadership at ZOE’s Los Angeles campus.

“To see (Ortenzi) emotionally moved by the mission and mandate that ZOE was carrying, it was clear that something was happening in his heart and his spirit where their vision was being shared,” Flewelling said. “He really felt a need to be a partner in that.” From there, a trip to ZOE’s refuge for child victims of sex trafficking in Thailand was quickly arranged.

photo of Brad Ortenzi ZOE International Eastern USA Regional Director

photo of Brad Ortenzi
ZOE International
Eastern USA

 

“They were cared for, they were loved, and they were on their way back to a really healthy path,” he said. Ortenzi later wrote in his journal that “it seemed like they had a grasp on joy that I didn’t.” “Never being around trafficked children before, I expected the worst,” he said. “We just didn’t see that. These kids were really on a good path.” During one prayer session, an 8-year-old girl who had been rescued from sex trafficking offered a prayer. It was for Ortenzi. Though he didn’t understand the child’s Thai language, Ortenzi said the moment made Ortenzi and his wife feel he had a new calling in life.

“’You have skills right now that could help free rescued trafficked children, and there’s no amount of retirement that could add up to that,’” Ortenzi said his wife told him. Moving from Lancaster County to Thailand was a gargantuan undertaking, Ortenzi said, but “this was something we wanted to be a part of.”

Regional Director Ortenzi and his wife arrived to find what he described as a “first-class operation” consisting of about 100 Thai staff and another two dozen international missionaries, but what really impressed him was the bravery and resilience of the children.

“It was a culture shock, but we were both world travelers before,” he said. “In the military I was all over the place.”Now back in the U.S., Ortenzi has since been tasked with helping coordinate a new anti-human trafficking task force by the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office, an effort ZOE is assisting by donating his time to the county.

Riding to raise funds, awareness

Ortenzi first came up with the idea to ride bicycles across the country to raise money for ZOE in 2018, when he and 46 others rode from Virginia to California, raising nearly $300,000 for the nonprofit, in an event unrelated to RAAM.“We realized we probably had a pretty good idea here,” he said. Ortenzi and his wife were in the process of moving back to Lancaster County from ZOE’s Thailand branch in 2019 when they learned about RAAM and decided to enter their own eight-member relay team, nearly identical in lineup to the team that’s competing this year. Some of the team members had been cycling with Ortenzi since that first cross-country trek in 2018. Others he knew from church, or from friends of friends. “They’re all just guys who love cycling and really connected with what ZOE is doing,” Ortenzi said.

The Lancaster County cyclists took their training and preparations seriously for the race, “but once we got on the road it was more intense than what we thought,” Ortenzi said. “We didn’t really know what to expect, and quite honestly we were sort of going naïve into the situation,” he said. “We trained hard and we tried to prep hard, but the logistics of this thing were almost astronomical.” The team was racing at a much faster rate of speed than what they were anticipating, throwing their lodging plans into disarray. “We were pretty much on the run and we had to make some major decisions and change things up,” Ortenzi said. Even with the logistical hurdles, the team placed third in its division, finishing with a time of six days, five hours and 52 minutes – an average of 20.3 mph.

cyclists in a hudle

cyclists in a hudle

“RAAM officials had mentioned that they don’t remember a rookie team ever being on the podium,” Ortenzi said. “They were pretty surprised, and we were pleasantly surprised as well.”More importantly, the team raised more than $175,000 for ZOE International.This year, team members are taking into account the lessons they learned in 2019 and are hoping to avoid some of the same mistakes they made.Training began at the end of last fall, with team members hoping to reach the peak of their cardiovascular fitness right as the race is set to begin.

Training can involve “a little bit of everything,” Ortenzi said, including swimming, weight training, running and meeting with personal trainers. Many of the more recent training regimens have taken place on bicycles, with team members riding at least four to six times each week, sometimes for hours at a time.The thousands of hours spent training for the race since the fall were made possible because of the race’s philanthropic focus, Ortenzi said.To that end, more than one dozen local businesses and organizations are backing the team.“Lancaster Countians really seem to rally around us and engage with what we’re doing,” Ortenzi said. “It became a really great awareness project for ZOE here in Lancaster County.”

People interested in donating to ZOE International’s cause can do so at https://gozoe.org/raam-2021/.

 

 

 

 

Race Across America 2021 June 19, 2021

May 12, 2021

ZOE International is excited to participate in the 2021 Race Across America. For 39 years, the Race Across America (RAAM) has become a global event, challenging ultra-cyclists from over 35 countries to push their physical and mental limits to the utmost. In addition, RAAM has become a huge platform for cyclists to raise funds for charities that they hold close to their hearts. Each year, RAAM cyclists raise over 10 million dollars in donations that are dispersed to multiple charities.

 

In 2019 ZOE International entered an 8-man cyclist team into RAAM and placed 3rd in their division and raised over $175,000 for ZOE!

cyclists in a hudle

Cyclists in a huddle

 

In 2021, we are doing it again! On June 19, 2021, eight ZOE team cyclists and 12 crew members will set out on a non-stop, 3,000-mile transcontinental relay race from California to Maryland with the goal of raising $250,000 for ZOE. We have the cyclists and our support team ready to go, but we need your help. We can’t do it alone!

 

Current corporate sponsors for ZOE’s RAAM team are Breeo, Country Lane Gazebos, Weaver Construction, Lapp Structures, Sensenig’s Feed Mill, Select Carpentry, Earthsource, Fisher Brothers, Eagle Rental, Urban Southern, TLS Carpentry, US Boiler Company, Lancaster Bike Shop, and Bicycle Barn. Funds raised will support the costs of participating in RAAM ($70,000) for items like entrance fees, uniforms, fuel, and
rental vehicles.

photo of brad and ZOE cycling team

photo of brad and ZOE cycling team

 

Any additional monies raised over the cost of expenses will be donated to ZOE International to help rescue more children who have been trafficked and care for and restore the rescued children entrusted in ZOE’s care.

 

More information about RAAM sponsor benefits and the cycling fundraising pages can be found on our website.

Brad Ortenzi ZOE International Eastern USA Regional Director

May 12, 2021

In 2013 Brad Ortenzi and his wife Lori felt they were being called into ministry, but didn’t know exactly what that would look like. “At that time, I was working with the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Child Pornography Unit in Pennsylvania, of which I helped to start,” shared Brad. “I had worked a lot of child sex crimes in my career, but not at this level. My heart began to break for kids even more so than it had before. I was working online acting as a pedophile and getting child pornography from pedophiles. Or I would be online chatting with the bad guy, as a child, and the bad guy was trying to entice me for sex. I would get the child pornography and have to view it to document the affidavits.”

Brad’s heart was breaking for these kids who had been sexually exploited while in the background of his life he was being called to ministry. One day he heard about ZOE and their mission to rescue kids and reached out to the founders, Mike and Carol.

 

“Mike and Carol invited us to Thailand to see ZOE first-hand, and it was there that I experienced a life-changing event,” shared Brad. “One night in Thailand while we were participating in a prayer session with the kids, ZOE staff, and missionaries, one of the children came up and laid her hands on me and started praying for me. I just broke down. God spoke to my heart and said, ‘you have been chasing after justice your whole life, well this is what my justice looks like.’ My heart to God was like, whatever this is, I am in. I want a part of this. I want to use my investigative skills to help kids
and add to that the spiritual side of healing
and restoration.”

 

After this life-altering experience, Brad and Lori went home from this missions trip with a new purpose and direction for their life. They went back home and took an early retirement. In November 2014 they sold their house and their cars and returned to Thailand as full-time missionaries with ZOE.

 

Director of ZOE Child Rescue Thailand

“I was being called to be the Director of ZOE Child Rescue in Thailand that was established in 2004,” said Brad. “I managed five teams. ZOE’s philosophy with missions is, you are there to work yourself out of a job. We are there to bring our experiences and skillsets of who we are, to pour into the Thai nationals, so that we can eventually back out and have them run what we’ve started. The training consists of discipleship, leadership and development.”

 

For five years Brad held this position at ZOE Thailand. “I enjoyed pouring into the Thai staff,” said Brad. “They were all so loving, caring, hard-working, and passionate toward the kids. I was honored to help build the structure of five teams and overjoyed to watch them run with it and make it even better.”

 

Prior to going into police work, Brad served in the Marine Corps for four years and then worked 20 years as a detective in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. “Those five years in Thailand were by far the most remarkable and memorable years of my career,” said Brad.

Eastern USA Regional Director, ZOE International

In 2019, Brad and his wife Lori left Thailand and moved back to the states. “Before moving back, I spoke with Mike and Carol to inquire about the possibility of expanding ZOE on the East coast,” said Brad. “We were all in to begin networking and building donor relations and I became the Eastern USA Regional Director for ZOE.”

Lancaster County Human Trafficking Task Force

photo of Brad Ortenzi and task force

Photo of Brad Ortenzi and task force

Through the east coast expansion efforts, Brad began speaking on some Human Trafficking panels and connected with Lancaster County’s Assistant District Attorney that he worked with on the Child Porn Unit. She expressed that she needed someone with Brad’s skills to come on board the County Task Force and help coordinate and put it together.

 

“In 2020, the Founders of ZOE agreed to donate my time to Lancaster County for me to serve as the Coordinator for the Human Trafficking Task Force,” said Brad. “As the Coordinator, I research other task forces in Pennsylvania; look at how they are structured and what is and isn’t working, and research best practices. I have been taking that research to the District Attorney’s office, and giving her my suggestions on how we should proceed. I have since created a draft and structure of the task force using a little bit of what’s working in other states, and also what is working in ZOE Thailand and Los Angeles. I have also been working to collaborate with other government, nonprofit organizations and ministries to meet the needs of the task force. I am excited. We are few months away from officially launching the task force.”

 

The Lancaster County Human Trafficking Task Force will work to investigate, prosecute, and find restorative paths for trafficking survivors within Lancaster County. This will also include community outreach with prevention education and awareness of trafficking.

 

“With ZOE’s work with the Task Force, we are going to find the gaps that need to be filled by agencies and nonprofits,” said Brad. “The vision for the future of ZOE East Coast would be to build out an advocacy system like we have in Los Angeles. There is also a possibility of opening a restorative home in Southeast Pennsylvania and enhancing some type of Christian-centered foster care for trafficked children.”

The Heart of Brad’s work and passion

“People often ask me why I do what I do,” shared Brad. “My ultimate desire is to see restoration of the children. And, it comes down to the duality of Jesus. He has a warrior heart that fights to rescue His children and He will stop at nothing to make sure those rescues happen. And then there’s the protective loving side of Him, along with the duality of His daddy restorative heart. He just wraps his arms around his kids once they are safe. That has changed my life.

I have come to a whole different level in my appreciation for who God is and how He cares for us. It’s all about the end game for me — that child accepting Jesus into their heart and worshipping Him.”

 

ZOE Cycling Events – Race Across America and Road of Justice

photo of brad and ZOE cycling team

photo of brad and ZOE cycling team

ZOE’s Cycling events came about when Brad and Lori had a desire to help fundraise for the new ZOE Home for Youth that was to open in Los Angeles in 2021. “We were avid cyclists and living in Thailand at the time,” said Brad. “We thought, what if we planned a coast-to-coast cycling event – which became the first Road of Justice in 2018 – and invite people to come with us and raise awareness about human trafficking and empower people to be fundraisers for ZOE.”

 

The 2018 Road of Justice started in Virginia and finished in Santa Monica. “Over 45 cyclists biked 3,800 miles, in over 46 riding days,” said Brad. “Some rode for a day, some rode for weeks or months. We raised close to $300,000 that year. We realized then we had something that could work for ZOE.”

 

In 2019 ZOE entered an 8-man cycling team in Race Across America (RAAM). For 39 years, the RAAM has become a global icon, challenging ultra-cyclists from over 35 countries to push their physical and mental limits to the utmost. “We started the race in Oceanside and finished in Maryland,” said Brad. “We biked 3,000 miles in 6 days and 5 hours and came in third place. We averaged 20.3 miles an hour for 3,000 miles and climbed 100,000 feet. Together the team raised over $175,000 for ZOE.”

 

RAAM logo

RAAM logo

In 2021 Brad and his team of 8 cyclists and 10 crew plans to participate in RAAM on June 19, 2021. “Our goal is to raise $250,000 for ZOE to help fight human trafficking. Looking at the rosters of the other teams, we have a shot to win this!”

 

Another ZOE Cycling event, the Road of Justice, is scheduled for October 11-16, 2021. Any cyclist can participate in this event. The race will begin in San Francisco and end in Santa Clarita. For more information or to participate as a cyclist, visit our website.

 

Collaborating with Law Enforcement to Recover Human Trafficking Victims

February 5, 2021

ZOE collaborates with human trafficking task forces in Thailand, Japan, and the United States, including law enforcement, government, and community agency partners. In Los Angeles, ZOE is a partner of the Los Angeles Regional Human Trafficking Task Force. Such collaboration is vital to identify and recover victims and investigate and prosecute traffickers.

In January 2021, ZOE had the privilege of speaking before the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners, along with other community organizations and survivor leaders, to express support for the City Council to fully fund the Los Angeles Police Department’s Human Trafficking Task Forces in the midst of possible department budget cuts.

ZOE staff on ZOOm for Human Trafficking task force meeting

During the 2020-2021 fiscal year, budget cuts limited human trafficking operations outside of regular business hours. These cuts reduced opportunities to recover human trafficking more victims, including children.

Human trafficking investigations and operations require many hours, and usually months, of building rapport with and interviewing victims, investigations, and collaboration efforts to successfully identify and recover victims and investigate and prosecute cases against traffickers.

During the meeting, ZOE’s Chief Operating Office Dave Cox told the commission the following quote:

“Without dedicated law enforcement efforts, child trafficking will grow in our city.”

In the end, the commissioners voted to recommend that the City Council fully fund the human trafficking task forces.

We are thankful for our dedicated law enforcement and other partners who work tirelessly to help recover our most vulnerable children from human trafficking.

 

Author Ester Yu

Cuties and the Exploitation of Children

October 20, 2020

On August 19, 2020, Netflix began promoting a French film called Cuties, which was set for worldwide release on September 9, 2020. The film (originally called Mignonnes) by French Senegalese director Maïmouna Doucouré and Netflix’s marketing campaign brought about worldwide criticism, petitions to remove the film from Netflix, and campaigns to #cancelNetflix due the public’s concerns that the film promotes the sexualization and commercial sexual exploitation of children and appeals to the appetites of pedophiles.

On September 23, 2020, a grand jury indicted Netflix for the “promotion of lewd visual material depicting a child.”

Although Doucouré has stated that her intention was “to show that our children should have the time to be children, and we as adults should protect their innocence and keep them innocent as long as possible,” in the making and promoting of the film, young girls were exploited in the process and continue to be exploited every time someone views the film. The lead actress is just 11 years old.

Legal Exploitation

Imagery in films like these normalize the sexualization of children and are legal forms of online child sexual exploitation. Individuals and companies are profiting from the exploitation of children in this film. Exploiters can easily take images and videos from this film and upload them to sites profiting from commercialized sexual abuse imagery of children. In addition, with children watching films like these, they are being exposed to and influenced by sexualized behaviors and media representations of children.

Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM)

As a society, we need to take a stand and draw the line against media imagery that fuels the demand for the commercial sexual exploitation of children. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), their CyberTipline has received over 65 million reports of the online exploitation of children, 312 million images and videos have been reviewed, and over 18,900 victims have been identified by law enforcement. NCMEC further reports that survivors of Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) “speak to the long-lasting damage and impact of their images and videos being circulated on the internet.

Subscription-based Services

The lack of control of both the files’ existence and circulation leaves the survivors struggling in their recovery.” In 2018, “teen” was one of the Top 10 search terms from the most consumed pornographic website. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that “[s]ome child traffickers adjusted to the reluctance of buyers to meet in-person to engage in commercial sex. Some traffickers are now offering options for subscription-based services in which buyers pay to access online images and videos of the child.”

The sexual abuse imagery of children exists because there is a demand for it. Let us fight to protect the dignity of children, especially in media, imagery, and the internet.

#STOP247

April 29, 2020

“It was so intriguing and such a life lesson, I could not turn away from my screen.” 

– Carol Hart, ZOE cofounder

I don’t know about you, but watching the #STOP247 – Because Child Traffickers Don’t Do Social Distancing live feed over the past weekend was quite the experience. If you missed it, don’t worry, you can still catch parts of it on ZOE International’s Youtube channel

Afterwards, I was trying to put into words what this bike challenge reminded me of. It was like a cross between Big Brother and the Tour de France! Watching seven riders all stationed in their homes, battling to ride for 24.7 hours to raise awareness about child trafficking… there just doesn’t seem to be the words to describe just how fascinating and inspirational it was. But not only that, throughout the 24+ hours, so many guests came on to encourage, share their expertise, tell inspirational stories, sing, rap, and spur the riders on. After falling asleep at nearly 4am (my time), I missed the last 2 hours or so which I then caught up on once I woke up. And what could be better to bring the riders home than the words of ZOE’s amazing founders, Michael and Carol Hart. (1 hour 51 minutes)

If you didn’t get to hear them, this is part of what Carol shared and, I think, beautifully sums up what all those who had been viewing were all feeling. 

“I stayed awake all 24.7 hours staring at you… I watched you in pain, I watched you frustrated, I watched you fighting to finish and it was so beautifully brave.

We just witnessed you guys going to war. You fought for children who cannot fight for themselves. You just showed us how to fight for freedom. 

During this bike ride you screamed to us, this is how we fight our battles – we never quit! Your fierce sacrifice over the past 24 hours impacted our lives more than you know. 

You have been so amazing to watch. At about 4:30 a.m in the morning I was in tears on the floor as I was praying for you and for the kids that we’re waiting to rescue, and that are waiting for rescue.

Listen, what you just accomplished physically, we promise to focus our resolve the same way at ZOE. We believe the impossible, with God’s leadership, will end child trafficking.

You reminded us by example to never be afraid to try. Try for what’s worth fighting for – for the weak, for the vulnerable, to do the right thing, even if you’re not sure you can do it.

The most amazing relief we have as a group is that we don’t have to just talk about helping to end child trafficking, or just wish we could do something, or just hope that child trafficking will end. No, every day we get to wrap our hands around the throat of the problem, and actually do something.

We promise we will not let the bad guys win. Thank you for giving us a fresh fire. I promise… it was so shocking, you know, we’re working on our 18th year of fighting for children, and rescuing them out of danger and trafficking, and I have never needed encouragement to stay passionate, I’ve never needed it, but watching you – it was a whole other level of fire I have in my heart.

What it was… as I stared at you for 24.7 hours, it was a physical representation of what we have felt all these years and what we will continue to do all these years and when it’s hard, when you feel like you can’t make it, when you’re scared of failing a child, all the reasons you didn’t quit, and even those who had to get off because you would fall off if you didn’t get off for 5 minutes, or whatever it was, you got back on and you finished – you went to the finish line with your team.

So I just want to encourage you and tell you that for people that have never felt like we’ve never needed fresh passion or somebody to keep us encouraged because we do that in the heart of God every day, we crawl up in God’s heart and He gives us fresh passion but you took us to a whole other level of fire and a whole other commitment level to fight for children who you may never meet and so we just want to thank you so much for everything you’ve done.”