Continued from Page 6 Knowing the work was dangerous and that he was risking his life doing more than just research, Matt asked Laura for her permission. Laura, who was hesitant, assumed Matt’s project would take a short time to complete, and then, that would be that. Even though she feared for her husband, she ultimately agreed and gave him her blessing. What Matt and his team discovered, as they dug deep into the world of traffi cking, was disturbing and shockingly casual. At one point, the team came upon a location where girls were lined up on a stage wearing numbers. In turn, the Johns chose whatever number girl suited them, paid a set amount of money, and got to take the girls upstairs to do whatever they wanted with them for an hour. As Matt explains, “With human traffi cking, people are turned into a commodity. Those girls were commodities; they were canned goods on a shelf, and you could pick whichever ones you wanted.” Matt was able to speak to one of those girls, whose name was Belle. She recounted how someone came to her family offering Belle a job for massage work, and once she arrived, she was told she owed a debt and that there was no job; she had to dance. When Matt asked why she couldn’t leave, Belle explained that she didn’t know how to get home. This is a typical way victims of traffi cking get trapped. The traffi cker entices them with promises of great opportunity. Then, the traffi cker takes ownership of the victim in his possession, delivering on none of the promises he made. Upon returning home, Matt was so moved by what he experienced that he talked to Laura about continuing with the undercover work. Thinking of her own children in a similar situation, Laura agreed. She tracked Matt’s every move as he continued to work undercover – as he went in and out of brothels, studying what was going on, and secretly recording different spaces fi lled with underage girls for sale. After eight months, Matt turned over plenty of suffi cient intelligence to the authorities, but nothing came of it. He provided footage shot inside different locations and spoke with various women regarding their situations. As a result, he and Laura began to question whether or not what they were doing even mattered. As time went on, Matt was introduced to a 15-year-old girl named Sarah, whom he and his team tried to rescue multiple times to no avail. Each time they’d go in, there would Page 6 be an internal, corrupt tip-off from authorities, a common issue among law enforcement with corrupt ties. With the cards seemingly stacked against them, Matt and his team were relentless. They fi nally saved Sarah and the other girls, and the involved traffi ckers were arrested during a full-swarm hit on a known traffi cking space. From then on, they achieved more and more success. That’s when they knew they could really make an impact. In order to train, deploy, and map at large scales, they needed money. Then came the idea of founding Exodus Road, which they viewed as “a path out of slavery.” A frequent mantra for Exodus Road is, “We must make traffi cking a dangerous thing to do.” The model of Exodus Road exists to support other law enforcement offi cers, social workers, and different impact groups – to celebrate good work and make it known what’s happening in the world and to all who are involved. One of the largest issues with traffi cking is that it’s rarely mentioned in spaces of action. Over the years, as the organization has grown, it has become more and more evident that traffi cking is uncharted, neglected, and a necessary cause for Laura and Matt to devote their lives to. Speaking on why it’s such a rarity, Laura, who in the past two years opted into a leadership position as president of Exodus Road, states, “Traffi cking is an issue people are intimidated to talk about, particularly in a sex traffi cking space. There’s something about sex traffi cking that feels very taboo, so people kind of want to shut their eyes to it.” There are also extreme complexities and misunderstandings of how relevant it is to daily life. “People aren’t even really sure what sex traffi cking is. Most people think it’s happening somewhere far away, and they often miss the reality that it’s right here, as well.” What’s most worrisome about the misunderstanding of traffi cking is the major lack of information in knowing what to look for, and the best response and intervention methods. Pointing to the universal presence of traffi cking, Laura explains, “This issue is really hidden in plain sight. You see what you’d expect, but then you also see people who are professionals – whether they’re users (knowingly engaging with traffi cked people) or traffi ckers.” There are varying types of traffi cking. One common form is familial – where people are traffi cking out of their own homes. Often, people who are traffi cked are in unfortunate or desperate situations, like teens in the foster care system, LGBTQ+ youth, and homeless youth of all genders. Often, undocumented workers are used in labor traffi cking. Traffi cking also shows up in places like massage parlors, bars, domestic household help, city streets, and lower-income neighborhoods. “It’s hard because it is everywhere. Traffi ckers are alys looking to exploit the vulnerable,” Laura says. Over the past 10 years, Exodus Road has intensifi ed its focus on information distribution. They now have three prominent programs: prevention, intervention, and aftercare. In the prevention category is Traffi ckWatch Academy, a program that educates law enforcement, nongovernmental organization practitioners, students, and communities with high-level content from the counter-traffi cking community. The intervention program involves training, case building, technology use, and law enforcement support. The aftercare solution provides crisis workers and social workers on search and rescue teams. Recognizing that every shot is one worth taking, the Exodus Road team moves with a trauma-informed approach to help those in greatest need. As of now, Exodus Road has rescued 1,505 people, arrested 820 traffi ckers, and is currently operating in six countries. To learn more about the Exodus Road, visit www.theexodusroad.com Courtesy of Denver VOICE / International Network of Street Papers Toledo Lucas County Public Library STRATEGIC PRIORITIES What do you see when you think about the future of Toledo and Lucas County? At the Library, we think emerging community investments, opportunities, and national recognition are changing the trajectory of our region. With our incomparable staff and resources, the Library is positioned to fuel this positive momentum. We’re proud to be part of this region of makers, doers, and dreamers and invite you to join us in driving our strategic priorities to create a bright future for the community. HELP CHILDREN LEARN TO READ. (BIRTH – THIRD GRADE) Have a measurable impact on the individual lives of children (birth through third grade) via Library tutoring, reading, and teacher-outreach programs in direct support of increasing the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment rate and the passing rate of Third Grade Reading Guarantee. HELP STUDENTS SUCCEED. (THIRD – TWELFTH GRADE) Provide pathways to success in the individual lives of students and young adults through participation in Library afterschool programs, strategic partnerships, and mentorship opportunities. UNDERLYING BELIEFS We will achieve these ambitious priorities with careful attention to our underlying beliefs that place the dignity, potential, and value of all staff and those we serve at the center of our actions. We believe in investing in people. We believe in building mutually benefi cial community partnerships with organizations that are aligned with our mission and values. We believe in being open and accessible to all. We prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion in all of our work. We believe it’s our responsibility to fi nd better ways to enable our people to serve our communities. We believe in sharing knowledge and connecting people. We believe that our customers are our priority and meeting the needs of our customers should drive our decision making. We believe we should be recognized as experts in our core services before expanding into other services in our community. We believe in respecting and including all team members and we value what each team member contributes to the success of the team. We believe in creating safe spaces that are honest and focused on advancing healthy relationships. HELP ADULTS EXPAND THEIR HORIZONS WITHIN OUR AREAS OF EXPERTISE. Ensure ninety percent of Lucas County residents have an active Library card. PROVIDE TECHNOLOGY ACCESS. Ensure every person in Lucas County has access to a computer and WiFi when they need it. PROVIDE TECHNOLOGY SKILLS DEVELOPMENT. Ensure every customer can go to any Library location, at any time, to meet and/or expand their technology skills. SERVE AS THE GO-TO COMMUNITY CONNECTION AND HUB. Position the Library as the institution where community members turn when they want to engage one another or connect with vital community resources.

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