The Abolitionists’ Tim Ballard spoke with us about faith, Harriet Beecher Stowe and fighting human trafficking.
After leaving the CIA and Homeland security behind, Ballard founded Operation Underground Railroad. The organization complete covert operations to rescue trafficked children working in the sex industry. The Abolitionists follows two of their missions in Haiti and Columbia as they try and remedy this world wide problem. Read below for Ballard’s thoughts on how we can improve the situation and work towards diminishing it.
Q: What made you decide to create Operation Underground Railroad?
Tim Ballard: I spent 12 years as a special agent with the U.S. government working as an undercover operator infiltrating trafficking organizations both in the United States and overseas and I was –I think like most people—just shocked by how enormous the problem was, millions of kids forced in to this. As a U.S. government agent … we would have to find a U.S. prosecution. In other words, if there was no American involved, I couldn’t get involved. I saw just an enormous need for overseas and in different countries. So, I left so we could have the mobility and flexibility to go to any country and bring the tools to them that they need.
Q: Faith appeared many times in the documentary. What role did religion have in the members of Operation Underground Railroad’s conviction to fight child sex trafficking?
TB: We have no religious test per se for Operators but most of us are believers in God. We pray and we believe there is a higher calling here; that there is a God who wants these children liberated. That’s definitely a major part of our motivation.
Q: Early in the movie, you talk about having a religious background that helps you deal with difficulties of his work. What is your religious background?
TB: I’m part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I also have members of my team that are Evangelical, Messianic Jews, so we have all sorts of faiths represented.
Q: Can you talk about how Harriet Beecher Stowe resonated with you?
TB: Yeah, Harriet Beecher Stowe, I love her story. She was someone who, like most Americans, was living her life and she one day stumbled across slavery and she decided that she needed to do something about it. And she did. She wrote a book and she was able to influence a lot of people to get involved and fight. So it’s the idea that a person, who just seems like an ordinary person, like me or you or anyone could engage people.
Q: Did this connection you had to abolitionists affect your attitude in any way towards the film?
TB: I was apprehensive at first because again recognizing—going back to Harriet Beecher Stowe—this problem is so big it’s not going to be solved by one government, by one country, by one organization. We have to create a movement. Like Beecher Stowe when she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin it started a movement by shining a light in the darkness and that’s what this film can do. I was apprehensive because I’m from a world of secrecy, operations undercover and to think we were bringing cameras in was counterintuitive to me but I recognized that an important of solving the problem is shining a light on it, showing people what’s happening and getting them involved and that’s how were going to be able to rescue more kids.
Q: Given that much of the demand comes from developed countries, what can governments and citizens can do to reduce demand coming from their countries?
TB: The question of ‘why are there 2 million kids are being forced in to the sex industry’—it’s because there is a demand for it, people want to engage in sex with children. I believe that the reason for that is … the increase in pornography and porn use. Not that every porn user, far from it, is going to become a pedophile. But it creates this sex addiction and that addiction can grow and grow to where … like someone goes from marijuana sometimes they’ll graduate to cocaine or something stronger, you know they’ll start engaging in sex with children.
In partnership with Fathom Events the film will screen during a one-night-only event in select movie theaters on May 16th.