Former Kiwi cop combatting Thailand's dark underworld

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Grace Ellis
/ Categories: Modern Slavery, Advocacy

*Warning - This article contains stories of sexual abuse.

 

 

Matthew Valentine spent 14-years of his life as a detective with the New Zealand Police. Little did he know his passion for fighting crime would take him to the streets of Thailand working for an organisation combatting human trafficking.

Valentine is now a law enforcement supervisor and anti-trafficking specialist for Tearfund’s partner, LIFT International, based in Thailand.

As part of his job for LIFT, he trains Thai Police. “We focus on topics that will improve their investigative ability and their care for victims of abuse. This year, we have trained more than 100 members from law enforcement agencies,” says Valentine.

 

 

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Caption: Victim-centred approach training, Royal Thai Police and DSI, April 2021, Chiang Mai.

 

 

He also works with the Thai Police to build cases and to remove victims from harm.

“We work in some very remote locations. We make sure the perpetrator is arrested, execute a search warrant, locate the victim or victims, speak to them with a qualified social worker, and assess their home situation. If it is unsafe at home, they will be moved to a shelter or an aftercare facility. Then we assist them on their journey to recovery. For instance, they might learn the skills to become a barista. We also support them when they relocate to a healthy home environment.”

 

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Caption: Attending a search warrant to identify evidence in relation to the 6-year-old girl mentioned in the story.

 

Valentine says since he started working for LIFT at the end of 2019, he has been a part of a team that has helped rescue 75 to 100 victims from harm. 

“Removing children from harm is one of the best parts of my job. I’m so proud to be a part of this team.” 

While Valentine was working for the New Zealand Police, he did a few years in the child protection team. 

“That was when I started to realise that this was what I wanted to do. Children are the most innocent victims—they are often born into their situations. They don’t have any control where they end up,” says Valentine. 

“I knew that working for LIFT was where I could make the most difference. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.” 

Valentine says children are most often exploited by a family member or someone they know. He also said sex trafficking is moving online due to the rise in technology and the pandemic. 

“Thailand has been in and out of lockdown for two years. Crime online has increased. Children are online for schooling and their parents need to leave the house to work—leaving children at home by themselves.” 

Valentine says he was working on a case where a six-year-old girl was exploited by her mother online. 

“Her mother started engaging with a man in Sweden and formed a relationship with him. As the relationship grew, he became interested in her daughter. Her daughter was only four years old at the time. Her mother sold her daughter for “entertainment” and that went on for a couple of years. 

“We received a tip-off from abroad, so we built a case. Through investigation and analysis, we matched the images of the abuse to a person and started linking the evidence. Then we executed a search warrant and found items that matched the content of the abuser’s videos.  

The mother was convicted and put in prison. The Department of Special Investigations (DSI) coordinated with the Swedish police and also arrested the man.  

The girl is now living in a safe home environment with some family members. 

Valentine says the job can be very tough emotionally. 

“I have two boys—one eight-year-old and a seven-year-old foster child. Being a father, it’s difficult to deal with exploitation cases where children are of a similar age to my own—it’s absolutely heartbreaking.”  

But he says even though it can be emotionally draining, you feel like what you are doing really makes a difference.  

“I just keep thinking that if we’d never found that little six-year-old girl, her life would have stayed the same. In my job you really feel like that if you weren’t there, nobody else would intervene.” 

He says that his faith drives a lot of his work. 

“It gives me a lot of comfort in dark times. It plays a big part in what I do.”

 

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Caption: Matthew Valentine.

 

 

Over the 10 years LIFT has been operating, the work has developed.  

“It used to be very dark and undercover—breaking down the doors and rescuing victims. Now, the focus is on preventing the problem and ensuring justice is served. The police are trained, the perpetrators are prosecuted and the survivors have the care they need to reintegrate into society. It’s about breaking the cycle and stopping generational abuse.” 

Valentine says if survivors aren’t rehabilitated correctly and they’ve been groomed, there’s an incredibly high chance they’ll become a perpetrator. 

“That’s why our rehabilitation process is vital.” He says he has interviewed multiple perpetrators.  

“They’ve learnt this behaviour because most of them have also been a victim of abuse,” he says. 

Another story that has stuck with Valentine is the story of a 13-year-old girl. 

“A young girl was abused by her neighbour who lived 30 metres away. He found out the parents had left for work, and he went over to her house with a knife to rape her. It went on for a year. She never told her parents what was going on.” The man was eventually arrested and charged with rape of a minor and sexual exploitation, says Valentine. 

After the offender was arrested, she was able to return to her home. 

“She flourished with her schooling after receiving LIFT social work support and achieved excellence in her grades. She is one of LIFT’s real success stories.” 

After the offender was arrested, the girl wrote Valentine this letter.  

 

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Dear Uncle Matty,

Thank you for helping and taking care of me. Uncle Matty, although he’s a foreigner, speaks a different language, and I know that he doesn't expect anything in return. I would like to thank Uncle Matty for suggesting a new accommodation for me. Moving out of the house where the crime scene was, my mental state continued to improve. In this regard, I would like to thank you very much. Finally, I wish you a happy life Uncle Matty, and continued good health.  

 

Valentine says, even though he has been a part of helping hundreds of children, they are never a statistic. 

“They all have faces, dreams, vulnerabilities like my kids have. It gives me massive motivation to keep doing what I’m doing.” 

He says the amount of money it takes to change a human trafficking survivor’s life is so small. 

“For example, a survivor pack is just NZ $35—they are given teddy bears, soap, toothpaste; things that make them feel human again. I just think I could use that money to buy a nice Sunday lunch, or I could actually change a child’s life. I can tell you, the impact from the donations is real and it has a lasting impact for little children,” he says. 

 

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