It’s hard to imagine that anyone would want to purchase children for sex slavery, and yet this highly illegal industry is booming in the U.S. and around the world. Approximately 1.2 million children are trafficked every year. After saving over 1600 children from sex trafficking, a father of nine is stopping at nothing to see this horrific industry come to an end.
Father Saves Over 1600 Kids From Child Sex Trade
Tim Ballard is a father of nine children and a former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Agent for the United States. In the mid-2000s, he was asked to help start the Department’s child crimes unit. This is what moved his career from counter-terrorism and weapons to stopping child sex trafficking.
In training to be a member of this unit, he learned how to go undercover as a “sex tourist”. In order to catch traffickers, he had to convince them that he wanted to buy children.
“I learned how to basically be just horrible things,” he explained. “I learned how to act like a pedophile or talk like a trafficker or a purveyor of child sex tourism—whatever I needed to do.”
The job itself is incredibly traumatizing. The things he had to do, the things he saw, and just the vastness of the industry are hard on even the most resilient people. Even with regular mental health counseling, the work would bring him to a dark place.
Having six children at the time, it was almost too much to bear. Learning not to superimpose his own kids’ faces onto the children he was rescuing was critical to his ability to continue the work.
Operation Underground Railroad
Ballard started his non-profit Operation Underground Railroad (OUR) to continue the work he was doing with the DHS. Its goal is to bring traffickers to justice and rescue the children from these terrible operations. (1)
He was inspired to leave the DHS and start OUR when he realized how limited he was by U.S. jurisdiction. This realization came when he learned of three-year-old Gardy, the son of a Haitian pastor, who had been kidnapped by one of the church employees and sold into sex slavery. Ballard wanted to help Gardy and his father but was unable to make it a U.S. case. As an employee of the DHS, he would not be able to help save Gardy.
After much consideration and long discussions with his wife Katherine, he decided that he could help more children, including Gardy, if he started his own operation.
OUR began in 2013 with a team of people who left their high-paying, pensioned jobs at the DHS, the CIA, state, and local law enforcement to start the non-profit with him. Now, OUR has 25 full-time employees and around 100 contractors. These contractors make up their “jump team” – the ones who respond to calls and tip-offs of child trafficking operations around the world.
A Successful Operation
So far, OUR has saved thousands of children from sex slavery. Their first rescue took place in Cartagena, Columbia, where they stopped a group of sex traffickers and saved dozens of children. One of the members of that child trafficking ring was a popular former Columbian beauty queen. She worked as a groomer for the children, a common role for women who are a part of these groups.
Their search for Gardy led them to a fake orphanage in Haiti where it was suspected Gardy might be. Sadly, Gardy had already been sold, however, they were able to rescue all the children who hadn’t been yet. (1)
Ballard was devastated that he was unable to rescue Gardy. Gardy’s father, however, surprised Ballard in the most incredible way.
“If my son hadn’t been kidnapped, none of these kids would be out. Nothing would have happened. If I have to give up my son so that these kids could be rescued, that’s a burden I’m willing to bear.” he said.
The pastor then went a step further and adopted eight of the children who were rescued. Though Ballard hasn’t given up on finding Gardy, he is in awe of the love, generosity, and resilience that the pastor and his wife have shown throughout.
What Keeps Him Going?
This work is obviously not for the weak – physically, mentally, and most of all, emotionally. Ballard says seeing the kids on the road to recovery keeps him pressing onward, but most of his drive comes from his wife.
“Without Katherine, there’s no way,” he says. “She would stop me from throwing in the towel in those moments, and she would remind me, ‘As hard as this is, imagine how hard it is for the kids.’” (1)
The Child Sex Slavery Market
Ending child sex trafficking is a complex issue. You can save as many kids as possible, but if the market still exists, it will continue to happen. Americans are actually the top client for this industry, as they typically have the most money to spend. To top it off, a child sex slave brings in three to even four times more money than an adult. (1)
For the majority of us, it is impossible to figure out how there could possibly be a market of people who want to have sex with pre-pubescent children. As to why people want this, Ballard says no matter how long he works in the industry, he can’t figure it out.
“I’ve asked myself this question for a little over a decade,” Ballard says. “Why do you want this? Because people think child pornography is 16-and 17-year-olds. And technically it would be. But I’ve never met a law enforcement agency who has time to even worry about that. As horrible as that is—and we wish we could—we’re talking about pre-pubescent children. That’s something people can’t wrap their head around. I can’t wrap my head around it. I cannot. It’s the opposite of what most people think of as sexy. It’s so grotesque. And yet so many people want it.” (1)
The Ballard Family
The Ballard family now has nine kids: one more biological child, and a brother and sister that OUR rescued whose parents were unable to be located. Ballard himself no longer does field missions, instead of focusing his time on spreading awareness about OUR and their mission.
Since beginning operations seven years ago, OUR has rescued 1,682 children and arrested 848 child traffickers. (1)
How You Can Help
If you want to help support OUR in their mission to end child sex slavery, visit their website for more information and go to their donation page to support the cause. Together, we can put an end to this terrible industry.