This open letter regarding The Exodus Road (TER) and the actions of TER CEO Matt Parker and President Laura Parker is in response to information brought to light by members of the anti-trafficking community both in Thailand and the United States. The following is the culmination of a year-long process involving conversations among former TER employees, consultations with attorneys and the FBI, and the intentional assembly of details representing the accounts of the undersigned. It is our collective belief that, as Elie Wiesel insisted, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.” We refuse to be complicit in any future abuse and will not remain silent about what has already taken place.
The following information provided, spanning from 2014 to 2020, while not exhaustive, points to two significant patterns requiring accountability: sexual misconduct and financial misconduct.
The most egregious event took place in August 2017 on a TER staff retreat in Thailand where two senior staff, Joe Hayes and Alex Saxby, drugged and then sexually assaulted an unconscious TER employee. A third TER employee, Todd Andrews, actively recorded the event on his cell phone. Months later, Andrews informed Matt Parker of the evidence. Parker convinced Andrews not to show the footage to the victim due to the negative consequences it would bring upon the organization. Andrews agreed to conceal the evidence from the victim, but changed his mind the day before the victim was to leave the country. Andrews then showed the evidence to the victim, who, as a result of having been drugged, was not aware the assault had taken place until viewing the footage. One month later, the victim traveled back to Thailand in order to file a report with the Thai police. This staff retreat where the assault took place was funded by donor dollars.
At the same staff retreat, Andrews recorded the aforementioned senior staff receiving oral sex from Thai women. This too was paid for by donor dollars.
To be clear, TER is an anti-trafficking organization whose website tagline reads, “Sons and daughters will be trafficked tonight: bought, sold, abused and enslaved” yet they have actively participated in the purchase and abuse of Thai women, thereby victimizing the very people they claim to protect.
Hayes was allegedly fired in January 2018 as a result of the evidence. However, prior to January 2020, he had been rehired and promoted to Director of Global Operations for TER. This position is funded by donor dollars.
Saxby was also allegedly fired in January 2018 as a result of the evidence. His current whereabouts are unknown. His position was funded by donor dollars.
Andrews was promoted to Director of Delta Ops. This position is funded by donor dollars.
In addition to the events outlined above, a culture of sexually violent, explicit language and sexually inappropriate behavior had already been established by leadership in the workplace and on investigative deployments. In fact, in November 2017, Hayes was reported to TER executive leadership and to the board of directors for sexual misconduct in the workplace. A subsequent “internal investigation” was conducted, but corroborating witnesses were never questioned and no known disciplinary action against Hayes was taken. Soon after, the staff member who filed the report against Hayes was terminated.
Alongside serious reports of sexual misconduct, there are equally serious reports of maligning Thai staff to cover up financial misconduct.
The Thai Country Director for TER (2018–2019) strongly objected to the unethical rehiring and promotion of Hayes for fear she would have to work closely with a man who had been reported for sexual misconduct and fired for sexual assault. Yet, expressly ignoring her concerns, Hayes was rehired and promoted to a position of authority over her. She was forced to report to him directly and was threatened that any resistance to his leadership would be considered insubordination.
This same woman courageously raised concerns and vocally challenged financial misconduct within the organization. These concerns included embezzlement and forged signatures by TER staff as well as false budget reporting and unethical auditing practices by Matt Parker. She was blamed for insubordination, quickly terminated, had her wages withheld, and was met with legal action by Matt Parker in Thai court. She feared for her safety and checked herself into a hotel after Thai co-workers informed her they had been instructed to remove financial documents from the office and that Matt Parker attempted to break into a locked office where she had stored the financial documentation.
The Thai court found in favor of the Country Director and determined there was, in fact, conspiracy to terminate committed by Matt Parker, and ordered TER to pay her severance.
Matt and Laura Parker are known for using the phrase “pull back the curtain” to describe their methods of exposing people to the realities of sex-trafficking in Thailand. The time has come to pull back the curtain on the patterns of behavior, the abusive and illegal actions/events experienced by former employees/volunteers, and the complicity that has allowed it all to continue.
Established patterns of abuse include, but are not limited to:
- Most concerning are the racist and sexist comments made by leadership to and against male and female Thai employees which serve to maintain the dominant power structure, “chain of command”, in place. This includes repeated racist comments toward Thai staff in reference to work ethic, trustworthiness, money handling, and sexual identity.
- Specifically, a female employee reported being reprimanded and racially fetishized by Matt Parker in a professional setting when told to “be a good, submissive Thai girl — seen and not heard”.
- In fundraising settings, Matt Parker has been known among his own investigators for embellishing rescue stories to create more emotive experiences which manipulate donors and encourage larger donations.
- Matt and Laura Parker consistently withhold information and restrict communication among staff members to keep employees disconnected and to maintain control of their brand narrative.
- Gaslighting is common practice when TER fails to uphold their end of an agreement both with employees and fellow organizations. This is followed by deflecting blame and claiming they’ve “been burned”. This phrase has been repeated with such frequency that multiple organizations in Thailand no longer partner with TER for precisely this reason.
- On deployments funded by donor dollars, sexualized interaction with young women and girls in bars/brothels often goes beyond the scope of gathering intelligence and is justified under the guise of “being undercover”. This behavior includes lap dances and the giving and receiving of sexual touching.
- One female investigator reported Matt Parker insisted she pose as his girlfriend during an investigation, repeatedly touching her inappropriately as part of “her role”. This same investigator was later intimidated by Laura Parker into resigning.
- Volunteers and investigators are trained by Matt Parker and other leaders to allow sexual touching as an investigative tactic that is both unnecessary and abusive. Male investigators and volunteers are pressured to engage, and the few who refuse are mocked and harassed by leadership.
- The practice of touring volunteers, potential donors, and well-connected bloggers through red-lights districts for shock value re-exploits the very people TER claims to protect.
- The practice of using donor dollars to attend sex shows where no active investigation work is being done, to receive private, in-room massages where no active investigation work is being done, and to frequent brothels where no active investigation work is being done is re-exploitation of the boys, girls, and women made vulnerable in those settings as well as a gross misuse of the funds entrusted to them by so many donors who give generously and faithfully.
- The claim of in-country partnership and empowering Thai nationals amounts to mere tokenism when positions of actual power within the organization are consistently held by white, American employees, and laws of the host country are not honored.
- Retaining Thai staff who submit to organizational rules and culture, but terminating Thai staff who question organizational rules and culture, is not a partnership, nor is it empowering.
- The abuse of power by using non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), in conjunction with withholding wages from exiting employees who have raised concerns or reported misconduct, is pervasive. NDAs are initially introduced to protect sensitive investigative information, but instead are wielded as a weapon of silence to protect leaders from being held accountable for their actions.
- Multiple former employees, Thai and expatriate, have feared for their safety upon leaving TER. This speaks to the dysfunction and threats used against them.
These patterns and events have led to the following actions:
- FBI inquiry and source interviews concerning the internal operations of TER
- Formal report of sexual misconduct filed with TER leadership and board of directors
- Formal report of sexual assault filed with Thai Police
- Thai court case ruling in favor of the Thai Country Director
- Accounts of misconduct shared publicly and among former employees/volunteers
- This open letter
This open letter is necessary due to the complicit behavior of the TER Board of Directors and *supporting churches and businesses who have enabled abuse of power to continue and donor dollars to be misused. Who knew and when did they know?
- TER’s Board received the formal report of sexual misconduct in November 2017 and conducted an “internal investigation” where no corroborating witnesses were ever interviewed, and the employee who filed the report was subsequently terminated.
- In early 2018, TER Board member Matt Stowell was implored by a concerned party via email to speak with the sexual assault victim after the assault had been reported. Stowell refused and acknowledged via email that the Board knew about the report of sexual assault and stated that the Board took a vote deciding NOT to share the evidence with the victim.
- TER’s attorney in Thailand attempted to convince the assault victim not to report the assault. TER’s attorney in the U.S. threatened the assault victim with legal prosecution.
- *Correction: The Grove Church has not supported The Exodus Road for an undisclosed number of years and the information provided to pastoral staff was limited to general misconduct only.
Truth is often covered up in the name of “good work being done”, but good work ceases to be good when abusive impact outweighs good intentions.
If your work knowingly places sexual offenders in positions of power, it is not good work.
If your work perpetuates the sexual abuse it claims to prevent, it is not good work.
If your work re-exploits the people it claims to protect, it is not good work.
If your work dishonors those in whose country you are a guest, it is not good work.
If your work conceals financial misconduct and the misuse of donor dollars, it is not good work.
If your work creates a culture of silence and fear and leaves a trail of destruction and shattered lives in its wake, it is not good work.
As co-signers of this letter, we are comprised of those who have lived in Thailand and those who live in the U.S., those who have worked for and those who have volunteered for The Exodus Road, those who have raised money for and promoted the work of the organization, those who have had professional contact with TER within the anti-trafficking sector, those who have experienced and/or witnessed the patterns of behavior exhibited by Matt and Laura Parker, as well as those who have linked arms with and supported the survivors of TER’s toxic culture.
Integrity matters, both at the individual and the organizational level, and we honor the work done ethically and compassionately by so many anti-trafficking organizations. Therefore, our goal is to expose the reprehensible, unethical practices of one organization, The Exodus Road, in order to protect the integrity of the good, ethical work being done in this sector and to stop the cycle of sexual and financial misconduct done at the hands of TER that has harmed so many.
We refuse to be silent about what we know.
We refuse to be complicit in further harm.
We are committed to our own healing from what has been done to us and to our own flourishing.
This requires a reckoning.
If you have additional information or a personal account pertaining to this open letter please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If after reading this article, you would like to add your name in testament of your own experience or in support as a witness to the experience of another, please do so by creating an account with your “co-sign” in the comments.