Hey, guys. Before I get started today, I want to let you know — this episode deals with an extremely serious issue that might be difficult for some to talk about. Today, I’m talking with Tim Ballard from Operation Underground Railroad about the massive global issue of child sex trafficking.
It’s an issue that hits very close to home for me. While I would never compare my experience to the victims of child sex slavery, I was sexually abused as a child by someone I didn’t know, and it took me several years to even begin to heal. I feel deeply for any kid who has been taken advantage of, and that’s why I wanted to release this episode in connection with the UN’s World Day Against Trafficking in Persons on July 30th.
This episode deals with challenging and disturbing subject matter, and I want to encourage you to use discretion in deciding whether to listen to or share it. However, I believe that hearing this information can make an enormous difference, so I hope you’ll join me for this important conversation with Tim Ballard. With that, let’s get started.
Did you know that the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world is not drugs, guns, or any kind of fraud? No, the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world is sex trafficking. According to my friend Tim, there are an estimated 30 million slaves in the world today, and about 10 million of those are children.
It’s a serious problem, but there are people out there who want to help. Operation Underground Railroad is a wonderful organization that is undercover in almost every country you can think of working to rescue these children and bring the traffickers to justice. In the six years since Tim founded the organization, they have rescued 3,800 victims and assisted in the arrests of more than 2,100 human traffickers. They’re doing great work, and at the end of the episode, Tim shares how you can get involved.
In this episode, Tim shares some staggering statistics about the global problem of sex slavery. He also shares his own story and explains what he and his partners are doing to end this exploitation. And for those of you who are parents, Tim shares the most important things you can do to protect your children from predators.
Remember — this is a very serious and very challenging issue, and while the numbers are frightening, there is hope. I hope this episode inspires you to get involved and stand up for the rights of exploited people worldwide. Let’s dive in.
Tim Ballard is one of the most inspiring people I know. Remember how I said his organization has rescued 3,800 victims? Of those 3,800, Tim and his wife, Katherine, have personally adopted two. He has a passion for rescuing exploited children around the world, and he’s leading the charge against sex trafficking.
He’s the Founder and CEO of Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.), but he fell into his career almost accidentally. Tim shared with me that he was just starting his career as a federal agent in 2001 when 9/11 happened. He was one of the first people to join the newly-formed Department of Homeland Security, and he was fully prepared to spend his life-fighting terrorism. However, he was assigned to the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and ultimately deployed as an undercover operative for the US Child Sex Tourism Jump Team.
In addition to his work on the ground rescuing victims and assisting in the arrests of perpetrators, Tim is a bestselling author. His books The Covenant: One Nation Under God and its sequel, The Covenant, Lincoln, and the War, have inspired readers to consider the connection between religion and American history.
Tim’s work has also been the subject of two movies. Operation Toussaint, released in 2018, is a documentary that tells the story of Tim and his team’s undercover efforts to dismantle a ring of child sex traffickers in Haiti and bring them to justice. And coming up this year, Sound of Freedom will tell the story of Tim’s journey from being a federal agent to running a nonprofit on the frontlines of the effort to end child sex slavery.
Tim has done a lot of incredible work, but at his core, it all comes back to his love for his own children. When he was initially offered the opportunity to work on a task force fighting child sex trafficking, he hesitated — he and his wife were starting their family, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to bring that darkness into their lives. But in the end, his wife convinced him to join in the fight.
“[My wife] said, ‘… I thought we had to say no to this because we had children. [But] that is the reason we need to say — yes because we understand what childhood is supposed to be. And if it’s true’ — and we weren’t even convinced yet — ‘… that millions are being trafficked this way, how can we allow it to happen?’” – Tim Ballard
Tim is doing great work in the world today, and I’m grateful to him for joining me on the show to share his knowledge and spread his message to the world. Let’s dive into the interview and learn a little more about child sex trafficking and what we can all be doing to help.
As I said before, human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal enterprise in the world today. Worldwide, the trade-in physical sex is worth about $35 billion, and that number goes up to $150 billion when you consider the sale of digital content such as child pornography. That’s a staggering amount of money.
“And to give some perspective because that number is so big — with the amount of money made buying and selling people every year, you could buy every Starbucks franchise in the world, you could buy every NBA team, and still have enough money left over to send every US child to college for four years. That’s how much money is spent in modern-day slavery every year.” – Tim Ballard
When Tim put it in those terms, I was shocked. But it doesn’t end there. According to Tim, sex traffickers can charge two or three times as much money for a child as for an adult. And further, unlike drugs, which can only be sold once, a child can be sold as many as 10 or 20 times in a 24-hour period.
I hate to say it in this way, but the sex trade is a lucrative industry. That’s partly why it’s so hard to fight.
And to make matters worse, the problem is right here at home. Many people think sex trafficking is a thing that only happens overseas, but most of the consumption happens right here in the US by US citizens.
Sex tourism — where people travel abroad for the purpose of soliciting sex — is a massive industry. Tim says that about 80% of the consumers in this industry in Latin America are Americans, and that percentage only lowers to about 50% in Asia. That’s why now, international sex traders are bringing kids to the United States.
“The United States just became last year ranked in the top three for destination countries for trafficking. The traffickers say, ‘Look, that’s the market I want in. If I can get into that country, then we’re really going to make a lot of money.’” – Tim Ballard
Let’s take a minute to get this straight:
That is mind-blowing to me. This problem is enormous, and it’s happening right here, right now. But there is good news — people like Tim are on the ground, on the front lines, rescuing as many children as they can every day.
Tim spent years doing great work as a federal agent. He went undercover in countries all over the world, dismantling child sex-trade rings and rescuing children from unspeakable situations. But one day, while he was working a case in Columbia, Tim decided to quit his job.
He and his team had discovered an enormous ring of sex traffickers, and they knew they could rescue over a hundred children. But in this particular case, there were no Americans involved. That meant that Tim, as a United States federal agent, didn’t have the power to step in. So, he did the only thing he could do — he quit his job and started a nonprofit.
“I’m calling a lawyer, and I’m like, ‘How do I make a nonprofit?’ I guess that’s the best way to do this. I had no idea what I was doing … And I got some people to donate, and we just went in. And we had two cases — the one in Haiti … and Columbia. … I didn’t have enough money to go home, so … I would bounce back between Haiti and Colombia until we had success. And we did in both. … We ended up rescuing over 120 [kids].” – Tim Ballard
That was the beginning of Operation Underground Railroad. Tim gave up his job — his only means of feeding his six children at home — and scrambled to pull together a nonprofit and enough donations to rescue those children.
And since then, the program has grown enormously. Today, they have real infrastructure and real partnerships with other key organizations that help in the effort to save exploited children.
“First of all, we always work with law enforcement. … [We’ll go to ] the local government law enforcement [and] we’ll say, ‘Here’s our services.’ And [the case in Colombia] was easy because as an agent, I was already working with them … and then I said, ‘I’m back. I lost my badge and my life, maybe, but I’m back.’ … And then … we can’t do anything until we know what happens to the kids. And so what we do is we have an aftercare department — which is our most important department — which partners with the local non-government organizations that are aftercare centers.” – Tim Ballard
Today, Operation Underground Railroad is a massive organization of experts. Their teams know how to infiltrate the online systems sex traffickers use to trade kids, take down rings of criminals, and ensure the children are taken to safety and given an opportunity to heal.
If you’re interested in getting involved and volunteering with O.U.R., there are plenty of ways to do that. You can fill out an application to volunteer and get involved in volunteering in your local area. If you have the financial means, you can join their Abolitionist Club and contribute enormously to their work by donating as little as $5 a month. And you can host or attend an event to raise your voice in support of exploited children and the people who are working to rescue them.
Operation Underground Railroad is doing incredible work, guys, and I want to encourage you to get involved. Even if you don’t have the money to donate right now, even giving a little of your time is incredibly helpful! Consider how you can join in this cause to help the millions of children living in slavery — every small act of kindness and generosity counts!
Child sex trafficking is a massive problem, and all children are potentially vulnerable. I’m not trying to scare anyone, but the truth is that there are predators on the internet who will take advantage of children, and parents need to be careful and vigilant about protecting their children.
So what can those of you who are parents do to protect your kids?
“Parents need to wake up and understand the apps that their kids are using. We had a guy just 30 minutes from my home just a few weeks ago who was gaming with two six-year-old girls from Indiana … [and] it started on Facebook. … Most games today [give you the ability to] play with other people … from across the earth. And it’s fun; it’s cool. But parents who didn’t grow up with this mentality and this technology … don’t even think. [They’re] like, ‘Oh, she’s playing that cute little game. She’s fine.’ [But] she’s been playing for six months with a pedophile from Salt Lake City.” – Tim Ballard
It is all too easy for pedophiles and sex traffickers to gain access to kids online today. With the popularity of social media and online gaming platforms, more and more people have access to your children. And let’s face it — kids don’t automatically know how to protect themselves online!
So parents, pay attention to the apps that your kids are using. Make sure they aren’t interacting with people you don’t know and trust online — that can be enough to keep your children safe.
And if you have the resources and the means, consider getting your kids into extracurricular activities or after-school programs! Tim says programs like that are excellent ways to keep kids offline and safe from predators who want to take advantage of them over the internet.
“We take for granted the infrastructure of schools and after-school programs and sports programs. We take for granted how safe that makes out kids from these online predators — because that’s where they are. They’re online.” – Tim Ballard
Parents, your kids are much safer taking part in sports or after-school activities than they are playing on the internet. Resist the temptation just to hand them your phone when they need something to do, and encourage them to get involved with an activity they enjoy. Remember — you are the only thing standing between your kids and the people who want to take advantage of them. Make sure you’re paying attention to your kids’ online activity and keep them safe!
Child sex trafficking is a massive global problem. Every day, kids as young as just one year old are bought and sold in slavery. Countless criminals are profiting off the lives of these kids to the tune of $150 billion, and the industry is growing.
Massive problems require massive solutions. Tim Ballard and his team are working tirelessly to solve the problem of child sex slavery. They believe in the positive impact of their efforts. They’re passionate about helping people, and they’re willing to do the work it takes to make children safe.
Here’s Tim’s definition of greatness:
“I think for me, greatness is how much positive impact you can [have] on others. … When given a fork in the road, … you’ve got to make a decision. And we do it every day — ‘Do I do this or do that? I don’t know what to do.’ Which one will help more people? And if you always take that road, I think that’s the definition of greatness.” – Tim Ballard
Tim strives to make the choice that will help the most people every day. His work is incredibly inspiring to me personally, and I hope it was inspiring to you too!
Remember, if you want to get involved with Tim and Operation Underground Railroad, just check out their website for plenty of volunteer opportunities. You can fill out an application to volunteer, or you can host or attend an event to raise your voice in support of exploited children and the people who are working to rescue them. And if you’d like to contribute financially, you can join their Abolitionist Club and donate money to their work.
Thank you so much for joining me today, guys. This was a challenging conversation, but I’m glad I understand more about the impact of human trafficking on our world. And by the way, Tim had so much more information to share, so I hope you’ll check out Episode 986 to learn how you, too, can help in the fight against child sex slavery!