Operation Underground Railroad (OUR) honored local and Colombian government officials for their collaborative efforts to end human trafficking at a screening of “The Abolitionists” on July 1.
Sen. Mike Lee and his wife Sharon were honored for introducing OUR to people on Capitol Hill.
“Washington is not known for bipartisan cooperation, but this issue is one of the things I’ve discovered can unite people of all political persuasions,” Lee said. “This is a pressing issue of our time where we as a society, where we as a civilization and as a species, can eradicate something that has plagued humankind in one form or another for centuries. It needs to end.”
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes was also honored for the integral role he played in OUR rescue operations in the U.S. and in Colombia. Reyes has made ending human trafficking one of his top priorities during his term.
“People would be surprised to know that more than 17,000 people are trafficked into the United States every year,” Reyes said. “That’s why I’m an abolitionist — if we can train every country our hope is to create a firewall against human trafficking so that that filth doesn’t come in and penetrate here into our country and our state.”
OUR has utilized sting operations to save more than 123 children in 11 different countries. They risk their own safety by going undercover as American tourists negotiating deals with the people who are doing the trafficking. Founder and CEO Tim Ballard said this is the best way to identify and stop sex traffickers.
The majority of buyers of child trafficking are Americans, making the involvement of Ballard and the other Caucasian American team members essential to gaining the trust of traffickers. Conversely, Ballard and his team need the help of local law enforcement officers to make arrests and ultimately shut down the traffickers.
“OUR is a tool for law enforcement,” Ballard said. “We can’t do anything without them, and we are able to go in and do things that they can’t do.”
Also recognized at the showing were the Colombian CTI agents who worked with OUR to make several arrests. The CTI is a Colombian federal agency similar to the United States’ FBI.
CTI agent Javier said he has already seen a difference in his country.
“Yes, they (the traffickers) are scared,” Javier said. “They’ve heard there have been busts, and they don’t want to get involved anymore.”
Another CTI agent added, “We are grateful for Tim because we have been able to arrest a lot of people. It’s just the beginning.”
Ballard said the Colombian government officials weren’t just there to be honored but also to receive training on how to rescue and rehabilitate victims of sex trafficking. OUR plans to further collaborate with the Colombian government by opening a shelter for rescue and rehabilitation in Colombia. They are currently looking for a site, according to Senior Vice President Matt Osborne.
OUR attributes its successes to the collaborative efforts of local and foreign government officials and of everyday people. No donation is too small, and no prayer goes unheard, its people say. The team at OUR knows that not everyone can do sting operations or make movies, but it believes there is always something people can do, no matter how small. Speakers encouraged attendees to spread the word about this issue via social media outlets.
“Spreading the word and letting people know slavery didn’t end with Lincoln can be a big help,” Osborne said.
To learn more about how to become an abolitionist, visit the OUR website.