BYU Hinckley Center
150 East 1230 North
No, it is not a topic for polite dinner conversation. But human trafficking is, and must be, acknowledged as a world-wide epidemic. Human rights organizations estimate that there are currently over 21 million individuals being bought and sold into sex slavery—more than the total of all the slaves in 300 years of the transatlantic slave trade. And dealing with it certainly wasn’t what Timothy Ballard, a BYU alumnus with degrees in Spanish, political science, and international politics, thought he was signing up for when he joined the CIA.
When first given the assignment to form a child crimes unit within the CIA, Ballard said, “No.” He could not imagine how anyone could bear the mental and emotional strain of conducting operations in such dark and deplorable circumstances involving such young and innocent victims. He was told he had actually been handpicked because, knowing the personal price which would be exacted, his superiors felt his religious foundation would be a protection for him and provide the strength needed to endure it. Timothy and his wife—members of the LDS church and with children of their own—struggled with whether to accept the mission or walk away from the career for which he had planned and prepared. In the end, it was the very horror he knew he would face which convinced them he had to do it.
As undercover operatives, Ballard’s team would take on the role of child traffickers or pedophiles looking for young ‘company’. In spite of the horrific places and the deplorable things Timothy saw being done to children—defining it as “nothing worse in hell”—he determined he would do everything he could, “even if it killed me.” And so he stayed with it—for twelve years.
In spite of the team’s success in rescuing children, there was one heartbreaking aspect to their missions—they could only rescue those with a U.S. connection. This often meant leaving other children behind. After much soul searching and in a leap of faith, Ballard left the CIA. Putting together a team of individuals with unique skills including former Navy Seals and ex-CIA agents, and maintaining all of his foreign contacts, Operation Underground Railroad was formed. Since the beginning of 2014, this private, non-profit organization has rescued children in Haiti, Guatemala, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Thailand, and the United States. “The Abolitionists”—a soon-to-be released documentary—tells O.U.R.’s heart-wrenching story (see ourrescue.org for more information).
O.U.R. focuses on providing safe rehabilitation for the children and on prosecuting traffickers to achieve a long-term solution and as a deterrent to others. Firmly believing that child trafficking is a direct consequence of the growing scourge of pornography, they are also developing software which will help lead law enforcement to the source—the pornographers.
Citing Jacob 2:19, Ballard says, “We’re supposed to ‘clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and liberate the captive.’ Oftentimes people kind of brush over that—what does that mean, liberate the captive? I know what that means.”