David Zach, lead singer of the rock band Remedy Drive, discussed his involvement with Exodus Road and the fight against human trafficking during the University Speaker Series on Tuesday.
Exodus Road is an organization that works to prevent human trafficking by facilitating raids, rescues and arrests with local police.
According to Zach, human trafficking can be defined through many different factors.
“Human trafficking is modern-day slavery; people recruit young boys and girls through force, coercion, abduction and deceit into sexual exploitation,” Zach said.
Zach describes himself as an abolitionist, writing songs about freedom.
“I was writing songs about slavery and getting inspiration based on watching Colony 2012,” Zach said. “That documentary came out with a tale of a ton of convergence during my life, and I just felt compelled toward this issue of slavery that felt helpless to deal with.”
Zach also said he got his inspiration for his songs from Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and Amy Carmichael.
“I kept feeling a tug on my heartstrings, this magnetism towards this specific area of justice,” Zach said. “While writing these songs, I was studying the life and the words of Frederick Douglass, especially his correspondence with Harriet Tubman and I thought, man, what if I can, similar to Frederick Douglass, tell the story of the modern abolition, tell the story of Amy Carmichael who went to Hindu temples where she rescued girls from forced prostitution.”
Zach said he got started with Exodus Road when co-founder Matt Parker came to Nashville looking for people to spread the word of the work that group was doing.
“Matt Parker, he came to Nashville looking for bands and organizations to talk about his non-government organization, Exodus Road,” Zach said. “As I’m sitting across from Matt, I’m thinking I’m a hypocrite, I’m a fool if I’m just another mouth talking about something. I have to join this guy.”
Zach’s work with Exodus Road has been to identify instances of minors being sold and to capture actionable evidence of their trafficking using covert gear. That evidence is used to make rescues and arrests in partnership with local authorities.
“I’ve been on nine under-cover deployments to the red-light districts in southeast Asia and Latin America,” Zach said. “We go to brothels, clubs and karaoke bars where they sell teenage girls for sex. We pretend to be interested in buying teenage girls for sex. We befriend clubowners, mafia members and cartel members to get an idea of what is going on with these criminal operations.”
UW Oshkosh student Lily Zablocki said she was shocked to hear that human trafficking also exists in America.
“Going in, I didn’t know much about human trafficking or who this guy was,” Zablocki said. “Coming out, I feel like I know much more about this issue. I didn’t expect that much sex slavery to be going on right now and the fact that it’s happening in America too, I’m definitely taken back by that.”
Zach said unlike Liam Neeson’s character in the Taken movies, he doesn’t posses a particular set of skills, he’s just a songwriter trying to make a change.
“I love the Exodus Road because they give ordinary people like me the chance to make a change,” Zach said.
According to Zach, Remedy Drive has helped raise money to fund Exodus Road.
“Our fan base has helped raise a third of a million dollars to fund this work,” Zach said.
Zach said his brother was worried about him going into these missions.
“My brother said I needed to take acting classes, I stick out like a sore-thumb, you know, I’m dodgy and I can’t maintain eye contact,” Zach said. “But then you get in there and you’re just another one of these punks, and they’re acting weird too. It’s not a normal thing to go into a place and want to sleep with a young girl.”
As a father of three young children, Zach said the most difficult thing is having to leave a child behind.
“The hardest thing in the world, that I’ve ever had to do, is to leave a child that I know is being taken against her will over and over again,” Zach said. “Without doing significant damage to an organized criminal syndicate, rescue, as meaningful as it is to one girl, doesn’t carry the same weight as making sure that when we go and take action against an organization, we don’t put other girls in harm as well.”
Alicia Johnson, Director of UW Oshkosh Women’s Center, said she believes human trafficking is an issue locally on I-41 and globally.
“I do believe that human trafficking is an issue on both a local and global level,” Johnson said. “Reach Counseling has an anti-trafficking advocate whose job is dedicated to serving local victims of human trafficking. From speaking with the advocate this past spring, I learned that I-41 is a popular trafficking route.”
Johnson said that this event will hopefully draw attention to human trafficking in our local area.
“I think it’s an important topic that needs increased awareness in our local community,” Johnson said. “Having a high profile speaker come to campus and talk about the issue on a global level will hopefully prompt people to also look at trafficking in our local area.”
Johnson also said students can get involved with Reach Counseling and 5-Stones if they are interested in volunteering.
“It would be great to see students get involved with local organizations who are working on the issue of trafficking in the Fox Valley, such as Reach Counseling or 5-Stones,” Johnson said.
Matilda Cretens, a student volunteer for the University Speaker Series, said this was the most students she has seen attend one of their events because people are interested in the issue of human trafficking.
“We brought so many people in tonight,” Cretens said. “I believe that this is the most students we’ve had attend in the past two years for any of our events. What he talked about was something that touched on so many different things; it’s a health issue, it’s a social justice issue, it’s a human rights issue. People are interested in this, and he gave us many ideas for how we can get involved or at least be a little more sympathetic to that cause.”
Nicole Menard, student and volunteer at A-STOP, a sexual assault service provider in Fond du Lac, said it was interesting to hear a male’s perspective on the issue.
“Most of the time you get a female’s perspective, so I was curious to see what he brought to the table,” Menard said. “He had a lot of religious undertones, which were actually quite refreshing. I’m not a very religious person, so it was nice to see correlation between the philosophy and theology of his religion working to help better these individual women.”
Zach said girls and boys are often targeted for trafficking online.
“People will say, ‘well I didn’t see it,’ but it’s right there, it’s right beneath the surface, on the internet,” Zach said.
Zach also said he wants to encourage students to help other people.
“My goal is nudge ordinary human beings in the direction of freedom, in the direction of justice, compassion and mercy, the idea that we can give ourselves, our time, to someone else,” Zach said.
Menard said it was nice to hear him instilling inspiration in the students to find something that they care about.
“The main point of his speech tonight, I think, was to inspire students to find something that they are passionate about and to use whatever skills they have at their disposal to follow that passion,” Menard said.