Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes works closely with the anti child sex trafficking organization Operation Underground Railroad to prosecute child traffickers and pornographers, but the extent of his involvement wasn’t known until Thursday.
Reyes joined the organization in a secret mission to rescue child sex slaves in Cartagena, Colombia, last October. He made the trip just weeks before being elected as Utah’s attorney general.
Operation Underground Railroad set up a meeting with sex traffickers in a pavilion near a beach in Cartagena. Reyes played the part of translator and stalled the traffickers while Colombian law enforcement landed in boats on the beach and rushed in to make arrests.
“It was so emotionally charged to be that close to people who do such despicable things and have them think that we’re their friends and slapping us on the back,” Reyes said.
The team rescued 55 children during its mission and put a “notorious cartel leader,” who is also an American citizen, in prison.
Operation Underground Railroad is a Utah-based nonprofit organization that sets up sting operations to eliminate child trafficking around the world. Reyes works with its founder, BYU graduate Tim Ballard, to establish the International Child Rescue Laboratory in Salt Lake City. The laboratory will train U.S. and foreign law enforcement on the latest software and forensic tools used to track child pornographers and traffickers. Ballard expects the laboratory to open later this year.
“We can bring people who can further the cause in enormous ways, and Sean Reyes is one of those people,” Ballard said. “He’s in power, he’s seen it, he’s witnessed it, he can now deal with this and be a spokesperson for this problem in a way he couldn’t before … in ways that other officials can’t.”
Reyes spoke at a Republican National Committee meeting in San Diego Thursday, where he talked about eliminating human trafficking. “We’re not just talking theoretically about it; we’re not just sharing statistics; I’m saying, ‘I have been there; I have seen these poor girls drugged and abused, and we did something about it,'” Reyes said.
Reyes hopes to keep sex trafficking from spreading in other countries and from coming to the United States, especially Utah. “We talk about enter to learn, go forth to serve. I can’t think of a better way to serve my fellow man than go there and return some of God’s children back to their families,” Reyes said.