Matthew Vasquez wanted to buy a girl. The pimps showed him through the brothel, bringing him to a room full of 7-year-olds.
“We had a decision to make,” he said. “We could only take adults.”
He moved on from the children and was led to another room, this time filled with women in their early twenties. Purchasing one, Vasquez led her out into the dark streets of Quito.
Cars pulled around the street corner and gunfire pierced the uneasy peace of the bustling sex district within moments. The escaping pair ducked behind a dumpster, hoping to dodge the bullets aiming to take their lives.
“In the midst of trouble, it’s you and that girl. And you’ve got to keep her safe,” Vasquez said.
Sex trafficking occurs across the globe. The problem holds international concern whether in Quito, Ecuador or Tulsa.
Vasquez founded The Cause, a Tulsa-based organization dedicated to fighting sex trafficking in 2013. The group is opening a safe home for boys 17 and under who have been victims of sex slavery. The home will be the first of its kind in the U.S.
According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, sex trafficking is a commercial sex act induced by force, fraud or coercion, especially involving minors.
Due to the nature of the trafficking industry, statistics are difficult to compile. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates “that as many as 300,000 children [in the U.S.] may become victims of commercial sexual exploitation each year.” Many of them will be young boys.
Vasquez was confronted with the boys’ plight last year. After speaking on the issue of sex slavery at a local church, Minister Russell Hill of Skiatook Church of Christ approached Vasquez.
“[Hill asked,] ‘What are you doing about the boys being trafficked?’” Vasquez said. “I was so messed up for the rest of the day. Because my wife and I looked at each other, ‘We didn’t think about the boys.’”
A month before, a donor offered Vasquez and his wife funding for five safe homes. After the conversation with Hill, they decided to open the first home for boys calling it Project 143.
When a boy is rescued in Oklahoma, he is brought to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services [DHS]. He is given food, temporary shelter, counseling and the opportunity to meet with a caseworker. Project 143 will offer to receive the boy from DHS. If chosen, the safe house will become his home for as long as necessary.
“There is no sense in rescuing a kid out of a situation if you have no way to sustain his life after he’s been rescued,” Vasquez said. “You might as well have left him there.”
The home will provide a place for two boys at first.
Project 143 has received community support. Mattress Firm recruited national resources to provide bedding for Project 143 and future homes. Plato’s Closet will clothe the boys as they arrive. Skiatook Church of Christ is assisting in preparing the house for residents.
“We need to start small,” Vasquez said. “We can grow together.”
Vasquez hopes for even more support and welcomes the ORU community to participate. Former ORU student Tolu Mejolagbe interned at The Cause last year.
“The impact I received from The Cause was life changing,” Mejolagbe said. “Matt and Emily [Vasquez] literally live in total submission to God and expect Him to meet every one of their needs.”
Mejolagbe helped schedule and run speaking events for The Cause.
“I would absolutely recommend ORU students to get involved with The Cause. If you are passionate about fighting social injustice, then why not,” asked Mejolagbe. “People who endure these social injustices are voiceless. So be their voice. Do something about it.”
Sophomore Kayla Campbell agrees.
“I think that a lot of people on campus know about sex trafficking but I don’t think a lot of them know how they can get involved,” Campbell said. “Life happens. The issue doesn’t go away but people’s passion for it does.”
Campbell studies psychology. She dreams of counseling women who have been victims of sexual abuse.
“One of the reasons I am so passionate about fighting sex trafficking is because I’ve experienced a small aspect of what it [sexual abuse] could be like. And if I can help other people get out of that situation, then I will do everything I can,” Campbell said. “I know what it feels like to be set free.”
Campbell recommended getting involved with The Cause.
“Expect that once you are in the organization, you are one-on-one with those who have been in sex trafficking,” said Campbell
Vasquez says that ORU students can fill specific needs at The Cause.
“We are looking for interns this year. We have call centers to fill. We need people that will help around the house. We need people who know how to write,” Vasquez said.
The Cause is also looking for tutors. Once placed in the home, the boys will immediately begin attending a public school district.
Project 143 will begin housing boys in September.
“If there is something that somebody wants to do, there is something I have that they can do,” said Vasquez.
Matt and Emily Vasquez can be contacted by phone at 918-804-5764 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Their office is located at 9524 East 81 Suite B-1598.