Tim Ballard, a former agent with the Department of Homeland Security, has dedicated his life to rescuing children from sex trafficking. His non-profit has helped arrest over 2,100 traffickers and rescued over 3,800 children from slavery.
The world is a beautiful place, but humanity has many dark sides. Child sex trafficking is the worst of the worst of what humans do to one another.
While most of us don’t even want to bring up the subject, the reality is that this stomach-turning exploitation exists and we all need to do something about it.
Things won’t change on their own unless we make a step towards the change we want to see.
One Utah man, a devoted father, and a loving father of nine decided to do his best to rescue innocent children from the claws of sick human monsters. Tim Ballard, a former agent with the Department of Homeland Security, has dedicated his life to this.
His non-profit, Operation Underground Railroad, aims to take down child sex trafficking operations and rescue children from their grasp.
This brave man was originally trained in counterterrorism and weapons, and eventually entered the trafficking world in the mid-2000s, when he was asked to help start the Department of Homeland Security’s child crimes unit.
He was there trained to go undercover as a sex tourist. Having six children on his own at the time, he knew his work was necessary, although it was stressful and traumatic.
He learned to “ act like a pedophile or talk like a trafficker or a purveyor of child sex tourism—whatever I needed to do”, and he began to “infiltrate different organizations in horrible places in Mexico and Colombia.”
Yet, what actually traumatized him was the vastness of the horrible industry:
“The U.S. government didn’t realize what it was doing to me. They were basically destroying my soul, not only because I was being exposed to things—and we have regular checkups with mental health professionals—but the part that was the worst for me was I would go down and find the kids, and I couldn’t believe how vast it was. I couldn’t believe how big it was. It was at this time we started getting the numbers, and it was in well in the millions of children.”
Even when he stopped superimposing his children’s faces onto those he was rescuing, he was never out of the dark.
Over time, he realized that he could help more children on his own if he was not limited by U.S. jurisdiction.
However, what really made him make this decision was the story of Gardy, the 3-year-old son of a Haitian pastor, Guesno Mardy, who had been kidnapped by an employee of the church and sold to traffickers.
Ballard did his best to find the boy and even flew his father to the U.S., but he wasn’t able to make it a U.S. case. Yet, he promised his father that he will find Gardy.
However, his hands were tied as he was working for the government. His promises made him anxious, and his wife Katherine, or his “hero”, as he calls her, convinced him to branch out on his own.
Back in 2013, Ballard launched Operation Underground Railroad (OUR).
The Ops Team “ consists of former CIA, past and current law enforcement, and highly skilled operatives that lead coordinated identification and extraction efforts”, many of whom decided to join the non-profit even though they had to walk away from pensions and job security.
Nowadays, the organization has about 25 full-time people working around the world and about 100 contractors—or the “jump team”, people from law enforcement and military backgrounds who respond to calls to action around the globe.
The team first assesses and researchers the targeted operation, and then designs a strategy for infiltration. Next, the team takes action, often going undercover as prospective buyers.
Afterward, they move in with local law enforcement to rescue the trafficked children and provide them with food, shelter, and therapy to help them readjust after the trauma.
The perpetrators of the operations are arrested, tried, and convicted. The first operation undertook in Cartagena, Colombia, and they saved dozens of children from a group of sex traffickers that included a former popular Colombian beauty queen.
Next, they went undercover to Haiti, at a fake orphanage, and rescued starving children who were not yet sold. Yet, Ballard didn’t find Gardy there either.
When he went to inform Guesno that he wasn’t able to rescue his son, the two cried together, and the pastor said something that shocked Ballard:
“If my son hadn’t been kidnapped, none of these kids would be out. Nothing would have happened. If I have to give up my son so that these kids could be rescued, that’s a burden I’m willing to bear.”
“Then he does the most amazing thing. He goes to the police the next day and he tells them that he will bring home any of the kids that they can’t find parents for and parent them. And he brings home 8 of those kids, and he and his wife are now raising them.”
(The search for Gardy continues. Guesno Mardy started collecting many children, recovering them, and he started an orphanage.
Nowadays, he takes care of 100 children, as Ballard explains, and his foundation “ finances and helps him fundraise.”)
The story of Guesno inspired Ballard, and he and his wife adopted two of those kids as well, a brother and sister, whose parents couldn’t be found.
Whenever Ballard felt he cannot continue doing this job, his faith and his wife kept him going. He also explains that Americans are the ultimate clients, as they tend to have money, and traffickers can charge more.
“I’ve asked myself this question for a little over a decade-Why do you want this?
Because people think child pornography is 16-and 17-year-olds. And technically it would be. But I’ve never met a law enforcement agency who has time to even worry about that. As horrible as that is—and we wish we could—we’re talking about prepubescent children. That’s something people can’t wrap their head around. I can’t wrap my head around it. I cannot. It’s the opposite of what most people think of as sexy. It’s so grotesque. And yet so many people want it.”
Nowadays, Ballard has nine kids of his own, and he is entirely focused on sharing the mission of his non-profit.
He is featured in the documentary film Operation Toussaint: Operation Underground Railroad and the Fight to End Modern Day Slavery, and is a co-author of the book adaptation as well as Slave Stealers: True Accounts of Slave Rescues — Then and Now, that shares stories of slavery from the pre-Civil War era and now.
A feature film called “Sound of Freedom,” starring Jim Caviezel as Ballard and Mira Sorvino as his wife, is in post-production stages.
Ballard’s non-profit, Operation Underground Railroad, has helped arrest over 2,100 traffickers and rescued over 3,800 children from slavery.
Moreover, according to their website, the partners they are empowering “have collectively helped rescue the lives of more than 10,000 survivors who were enslaved, exploited, or at risk.”
This is their promise:
“ To the children who we pray for daily, we say:
Your long night is coming to an end. Hold on. We are on our way.
And to those captors and perpetrators, even you monsters who dare offend God’s precious children, we declare to you:
Be afraid. We are coming for you.
To those who have read this far, we plead with you:
Donate to our cause. We can’t do this without you.”