Editor’s Note: This article is a follow up to BYU grad rescues child sex slaves.
Operation Underground Railroad founder and BYU grad Tim Ballard has plans to make Utah the “go-to place in anti-trafficking efforts.”
He meets weekly with Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes to establish what will be called the “International Child Rescue Laboratory” in Salt Lake City. Ballard hopes it will be operational sometime in 2015.
The facility will train both U.S. and foreign law enforcement to use the latest software and forensic tools to track child pornographers and traffickers.
Ballard recently decided to give up his cover to raise awareness about child sex slavery. “We had to make a decision, if we were going to continue to exist, I needed to come out and be the face of the organization,” he said. “If you don’t tell anyone about it, you don’t solve the problem.”
Undercover work is just one of the organization’s roles. Ballard will continue to head missions, but now in the control room. Other agents whose covers are still intact will work face-to-face with sex traffickers.
Ballard began Operation Underground Railroad because he could only pursue anti-trafficking cases that ended in a U.S. courtroom as an agent for the Department of Homeland Security. “You can only do that for so long before you feel there’s a moral obligation here,” he said. “You’re going to die someday and have a meeting with your maker and he’s going to ask you, ‘What did you do about those kids?'”
The organization works closely with foreign government officials to prosecute traffickers and to care for the victims. All rescued minors become the responsibility of the state and are sent to be rehabilitated. The children are then either returned to their families or sent to a prescreened orphanage.
They managed to rescue 123 children during their latest mission in Colombia. Fifty-five of those children were between the ages of 11 and 12. “You get a mixed bag of reactions. While the 11-year-olds are running to you and hugging you and crying for joy that they’re out of this … you’re going to have a bunch of 18-year-olds who were once there, but now they think that all they are is an object,” Ballard said.
Many of the trafficked 18-year-old women have seven-year-old children. They’re offered the chance to be rescued with the minors, but because it’s legal for adults to sell themselves in many countries, they get to choose. Some go along, but some return to the streets the same day.
“This is not a problem that any one government is going to take care of, or one organization. It’s the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world,” Ballard said. “That’s why the media is so important, that’s why stories are so important.”
Click here for more information about how to get involved with Operation Underground Railroad.