ORANGE COUNTY (CBSLA.com) — It’s the last thing young women selling themselves for sex are expecting: a pastor who prays for them and leaves them with a condom – with an emergency number written on it. The girls can call if they want to get out.
“We saw it happening in other countries; it’s right here in Orange County. It’s happening in the backyard of Disneyland. It’s happening in the backyard of Knott’s Berry Farm,” Pastor Kevin Brown says.
Every other Friday night, at an undisclosed parking lot somewhere in Orange County, Brown is on a mission.
For thirty years, he was a Santa Ana Police detective. Now, he’s a pastor, going through backpage.com, gathering his flock and going undercover to save victims of human trafficking – one girl at a time.
As former cops, Brown and his team used to put prostitutes in custody, but now, they pray for them.
“There was such a misconception that the girls were just a prostitute; they were just a whore. But the bottom line is that’s not true at all. These girls are all victims,” Brown says.
“That’s why God brings us to these girls; because someone’s praying for them,” he can be told telling one of the girls he’s trying to rescue.
“Who’s praying for you?” he asks her.
“My mom,” she responds.
“That means she loves you and hasn’t given up okay? Don’t you give up on you. That’s the main thing, right? Don’t you give up on you,” he tells her.
Joined by Greg Reese, a former Huntington Beach Police officer and member of the Orange County Sex Crimes Task Force, the two retired detectives train volunteers to identify and assist victims of human trafficking.
On a conference call with all the volunteers, Reese usually describes his location as Brown calls police and tracks Reese’s every move.
Three weeks ago, their mission helped save a young girl named “Stephanie”.
“I prayed to God, ‘Give me a sign. Can You get me out of here?’” she told CBS2’s Stacey Butler.
Stephanie came to Santa Ana looking for quick cash stripping, but she never dreamed she would end up selling herself for sex.
“I couldn’t go outside by myself or go anywhere by myself. He had to be right there with me,” she recalls.
She was trapped in a motel room one floor below her trafficker, where she says he raped her and then forced her to take on clients. She was there just two days when Reese responded to an ad.
“I was so scared. My heart was racing a thousand miles per hour,” she recalls.
Her prayers were answered. Stephanie waited for her trafficker to run an errand. That’s when Greg led her safely to the group of waiting rescuers.
“I thank God for them every day, for getting me out of there. For helping other girls like myself,” she says.
Stephanie is now safe. She regularly attends church in Arizona and is getting help with job training and school.
There’s no way to know just how many other lives this group may have touched or saved, but every other Friday night, Brown and his volunteers won’t stop trying.