NOVATO, Calif. (KGO) --Human trafficking is now considered one of the fastest growing crimes in the world, but while many of us have heard about the horror of selling human beings for sex, only a few dedicate their lives to stopping it. Marin County's Andy Blalock of is one of those few. He is part of team now rescuing child sex slaves in Cambodia.
Blalock grew up in Novato and graduated from UC Davis. He began volunteering with Christian groups, helping street children around the world. He was in Uganda when he realized he wanted to do even more.
"It struck me that we were only working with boys. And so I asked one of the locals there, where are all the girls? How come we are not outreaching to them, and they said, 'Oh they are all being trafficked,'" Blalock said.
Blalock eventually ended up in the notorious town of Svay Pak, Cambodia, where it is estimated 90 percent of girls under 13 years old were being sold for sex. "Men fly from all over the world, from Europe, Australia, China, and American men, they fly there to buy 5-year-old girls, 10-year-old girls for sex" according to Blalock. The girls are raped and often tortured.
A Christian organization called Agape International Missions has been fighting human trafficking in Cambodia for more than a decade, with some impressive results. Blalock volunteered the filmmaking skills he learned in college to create videos for Agape to spread the word about the horrific sale of young girls and what's being done to stop it.
One of Blalock's videos features a young woman named Bella. She told him she was 12 when she was forced into prostitution. Bella said she was tricked by an older woman who promised her a good job. She was sexually abused by many men every day until she was finally rescued by Agape. Two men posed as customers and brought in the police.
Bella joined what Agape calls its After Care program which helped her slowly rebuild her life. After Care is just one of a wave of programs launched by Agape to change a culture that made it socially acceptable to sell children.
Back at Blalock's home church, Good Shepherd Lutheran in Novato, the congregation has been raising money to support Agape's work for several years. About a dozen church members are going to Svay Pak to volunteer with Agape this fall, and several have already been there to see what's happening for themselves. One of them is Karen Marks who reported, "Agape has transformed that little village. They have restored some buildings that were brothels, they created a school, a medical clinic, a factory for local parents to have employment, a training center for the rescued girls."
Agape says the number of girls being sold in Svay Pak is down significantly, and children are no longer trafficked out in the open. But the fight is not over -- many girls are still sold in secret. Blalock is now operations manager for Agape's investigative team that finds the hidden children and works with police to rescue them.
On a recent visit to Novato, Blalock told church members about raiding a brothel. The Cambodian police go in with their AK47 weapons drawn, then Blalock and his team get the girls to safety and on their way to better lives.
The team also helps gather evidence to prosecute traffickers and the pedophiles who come to Cambodia to abuse children. Blalock says the work "takes sacrifice, but it's all worth it. Even if you work for years, just to help one person, it's all worth it."
Good Shepherd volunteers are now preparing for their fall service trip and are in need of financial donations for medical supplies, educational supplies, food, and support for the impoverished families in the area.
If you would like to help, you can learn more at:
www.goodshepherdlutheran.org or www.facebook.com/OutreachtoCambodia
Blalock also worked on an Emmy Award winning documentary called "The Pink Room" about sex trafficking in Cambodia. It features Agape and other groups on the frontline in the battle against the sale of human beings.
Written and produced by Jennifer Olney