Child trafficking expert discusses modern slavery

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Photo by Nathan Gross

There are more people in slavery today than ever before in the history of the world, Tim Ballard, CEO of Operation Underground Railroad, told an audience of 400 at the Ragan Theatre Oct. 12.

“Of over 35 million slaves, 5 million are children,” said Ballard, who was the keynote speaker of the UVUSA Speaker Series.

Ballard founded Operation Underground Railroad, also referred to as O.U.R., in December of 2013. Ballard has also worked as a CIA special agent for Homeland Security and is dedicated to ending child slavery. Ballard began his passion for ending child slavery as a CIA agent where he was assigned to the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force for 10 years.

“Over 5 million children are being enslaved for sex, for labor and for organ harvesting,” said Ballard. “Our organization targets those 2 million children.” Ballard’s organization focuses on children who are used for sex trafficking.

At first Ballard was resistant to the idea of working in that area because he and his wife are parents themselves. “You are voluntarily walking into this darkness,” said Ballard. Being a father is the reason he felt the need to make a difference by ending child slavery.

Ballard discussed the harsh reality of why child sex trafficking is the way that it is. He said, “It is the fastest growing criminal enterprise. Why? Because it is more lucrative than drugs. You sell cocaine and there it goes. These children are raped up to 15-20 times a day.”

Ballard has dismantled dozens of child trafficking forces, one of which being an operation in Columbia. He and his team went undercover inquiring about child sex services. While undercover, a trafficker offered Ballard 11-year-old girls and boys.

“They have children that they recruit to come into their modeling schools and train them to be sex slaves at ages 9-10,” Ballard said. “They supply them with pornography and drugs and teach them how to please their clients.”

O.U.R strategically finds a way to catch traffickers in order to free countless children from the heart-wrenching circumstances. Once they are rescued, they are given stable homes and are assisted with education and everything needed to heal. “There is no rescue without rehabilitation,” said Ballard.

“We learn about slavery [in school] and you think, wow, I can’t believe that we let that happen. As a society we let people be enslaved. Good thing that’s done,” said Ballard. He shed a light on a rather covert topic and emphasized how real the issue is today in our advanced world.

“It’s never going to go away until people do something,” said Ballard.

Mitch Riley, a national security major at UVU, said, “This has had an impact on me to educate and go out and find a way to act.”