Crusader against child slavery speaks at Snow
By Max Higbee
Sept. 28, 2017
EPHRAIM—Although slavery seems to most to be distant history, the practice is alive and well, and Tim Ballard has spent his career combating it.
A former Homeland Security agent, Ballard left his government job in 2013 to found Operation Underground Railroad (OUR), an organization that works undercover to discover child sex trafficking rings in the United States and abroad, free the victimized children and bring their abusers to justice.
His efforts with OUR are the subject of the 2013 documentary, “The Abolitionists,” which was broadcast by PBS as part of its American Experience series.
“Going into the darkness, you meet a lot of bad people, but a lot of really good people are in that darkness, fighting,” Ballard said. “There’s so much darkness, there’s so much evil, there’s so much need for people to engage in righteous causes and bring light to the darkness.”
Ballard said that by the numbers, there are more people in slavery today than in all previous eras combined, including a current figure of 6 million children in sex slavery or forced labor.
The amount of money in the international sex trafficking industry is enough to buy every Starbucks franchise in the world and send every child in the United States to college.
A native of California, Ballard served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Chile before graduating with a bachelor’s degree from BYU and a master’s from the Monterey Institute of International Studies.
He began his career in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) investigating human traffickers in the region around Mexicali, Mexico, which is just south of the California border.
He was approached by a superior about being transferred to a child affairs unit and working undercover to find U.S. citizens who were committing child sex crimes abroad. He and his wife agonized over the decision. They worried about the effect the assignment would have on Ballard’s mental health and on their family life.
Eventually, however, they concluded it was a special calling to help children to safety, just as they would want others to help their children if the tables were turned. Ballard accepted the transfer.
After years of successful work in DHS, Ballard became concerned about the foreign children he could not save due to jurisdictional issues and red tape.
He cited multiple instances where he knew of a sex trafficking ring involving children but was not authorized to act because a U.S. citizen was not involved.
He left the DHS to found Operation Underground Railroad, an independent organization that fundraises and conducts operations to end human trafficking.
Ballard described two successful operations in Haiti and Colombia and told the Snow audience his family was actually in the process of adopting two of the children rescued in the Haiti operation.
Currently, he said, half of OUR’s operations are in the United States.
Amid such heavy subject matter, Ballard spoke of the necessity of finding light in the darkness. “I try to make that my mantra,” he told students.
He said he felt that the children he had rescued had taught him as much as anything he could teach them. “When you’re looking for light in the darkness, sometimes you find it; there are incredible things you learn,” he said.
Convocation talks are available on the “Watchit Snow College” YouTube channel.