Carrying a faded machete scar across his face, Ty Ritter hosts more bullet wounds than any man should. Ritter is tough in ways that make even brave men flinch. Cornered-dog tough, ruthless enough to stare death in the eye and wait for it to back down, a fellow who takes a bullet and merely sneers at the wound, the kind of tough that the world’s criminals simply don’t understand. He is the man you want to go into battle with. For Ritter, however, resolve was never a goal, merely a consequence of life.
Thirty years ago, Ritter was working executive security when a friend asked him to help find his daughter who’d been kidnapped. He was fortunate enough to locate and rescue her before any malevolence occurred. That was Ritter’s introduction into what he considers the darkest place on Earth, sexual slavery. Annually, tens of thousands of children are taken, disappearing from major cities, populated suburbs, and small towns. At present, the market is willing to pay up to $100,000 for a blond-haired, blue-eyed child – it used to be $17,000 – but traffickers target all ethnicities. Humanity’s depravity is not limited to certain colors or wealth, and as difficult as it is to hear, no one is safe.
THE DARKEST PLACE ON EARTH
“In just a handful of Los Angeles counties, four hundred children disappear annually.” -Los Angeles Bureau of Statistics. Originally from the United States, these girls range in age from three to fourteen years old. Their days used to consist of playgrounds and classrooms, their young lives filled with ambition, joy and imagination – And then victimization brought life’s cruel reality. Over a seven-month period, they’d all been kidnapped, stolen from various cities throughout the U.S., gone without a trace. Their families emptied their bank accounts, built search parties, gave press conferences, checked in hourly with the police, and suffered the guilt and pain of not being able to protect their virginal daughters. With each passing week, they stared at the empty seats beside the dinner table, growing more despondent and less hopeful, eventually falling into a numb acceptance that their children may never be returned to their arms.
Each girl suffered a similar fate. A scream-stifling weathered hand wrapped strongly across her mouth, her eyes blindfolded with thick, dark black cotton, her hands yanked harshly behind her back and lashed together with duct tape. Until she yelled, they left her mouth unblemished, fearing a bleeding lip or a broken tooth might make her less valuable to her next owners. At times, she recoiled from the callous hands upon her shoulders. Hearing the first desperate shriek, they applied a small needle into her arm, turning her virtually catatonic for the remainder of the journey. She maintained her wits and senses, acutely aware of her circumstances, yet unable to make a sound.
When the girls awoke, it was in the claws of another individual, of Spanish descent, surrounded by green jungle, and chained to the wooden slats of a free standing cabin in the middle of nowhere. The men were dark, bare-chested, often wearing rough beards, and soaked through to the bone with their own perspiration. The chains themselves were black iron, a single cuff attached to one ankle, and unless one had the self-cannibalizing desire of a trapped coyote, virtually inescapable.
The first time was always delicate, but horrible – children are not made for violation –spending their first night in tears, physically exhausted and hurt, emotionally destroyed, and wondering how this happened. There were no beds to run to, no parents to crawl between, and here, the monsters did not hide in closets. Repeated violations were a regular occurrence, the sweaty masculine beasts shoving them roughly up against the wall, the brutal thrusting and tearing of their tiny bodies mixed with the aggressive grunting and hot breath of unrestrained animals. At night, when the men slept, the tears rolled quietly for fear of awaking their predators. As the months wore on, they’d become objects, and the men didn’t bother being delicate. The girls sat in stark terror, dreading each minute of their crumbling lives, awaiting the inevitable pain and torture and desecration of their very selves, with no hope for escape and no opportunity to take their own lives. “In 1982 a reported 154,341 were trafficked for sex. By 2000, the number was 876,213.” – US Justice Department
A CALL TO ACTION
Back in America, Ritter had heard the stories of the South American drug runners and their sex-slave trade. He’d witnessed a young girl, courageously escape the clutches of traffickers and make the decisive journey across many borders to arrive back to her family’s doorstep, bruised, beaten and battered, to live a post-traumatic life of guilt and remembrance and wonder at what might have been. Ritter visited that girl, and listened closely to her descriptions of the wretched jungle life she lived for six months. He’d seen the unreturned look in her eyes, as though her body had made it home but her soul was still there – as if she’d left her spirit in the jungle to provide hope for the other victims. To know there are children being destroyed while their parents suffer the indignity of not being able to help them, drove Ritter to start Project Child Save.
On the first rescue mission, Ritter took six girls from their captors. When he and his team arrived in the middle of the night, camouflaged in fatigues, green face paint and boots, they were carrying twelve-inch corrugated steel knives. After quick medical attention, the men got out, returning to the U.S. to begin the process of reuniting the girls with their families. Repatriation took time. One does not take a wounded animal from the jungle into suburbia without incident. Psychologists worked slowly, delicately restoring trust and courage and some semblance of humanity to the children. They started with puppies and furry stuffed animals. They listened to the haunted cries echoing through the night. Doctors spent hours performing vaginal repairs, straightening broken bones, redefining lips and teeth and violated rear-ends, but some scars never heal.
Over the next thirty years, Ritter would undertake many rescue missions with one rule, “Never leave a child behind.” Lack of funding is a consistent source of frustration Ritter explains, “We’ve rescued over five-hundred children. At present, we have thousands of emails from desperate parents around the world asking us to recover children. We have intelligence indicating the locations of many of these children, however, we require airplane fuel, tactical gear, and training for each operation…The moment we have enough money for a recovery operation, our team gets on a plane. For thirty years, this has been our creed – To be willing to give all of our tomorrows for one child’s today.” To date, although there had been occasions when Ritter was tempted to take their successes and go, he upheld that promise to himself and his team, and most importantly, to the children.
Many years ago, Ritter buried his son and it is the one wound in his body that will never heal. He is a father and a man who understands loss, as well as a hero, silently performing duties few Americans would ever consider, taking no credit, no money, and no reward for his acts, aside from the personal satisfaction that comes from keeping the promise he made to a brave little girl long ago.
Article From The Relationship Issue