Stories that Changed History in the
Fight Against Sex Trafficking
1. The Little Boy that Inspired Tim Ballard to Start O.U.R.
Guesno believed that his missing son, Gardy, had gone through an illicit orphanage. His hunch was the only lead there was – and with the devastating earthquake that broke Port Au Prince, Haiti, his son’s case was lost in the sea of hundreds of missing kids. Gardy could be anywhere.
Tim Ballard, while still a government agent, heard of this story through the press. Gardy was technically a U.S. citizen because he was born when his parents were visiting the U.S. from Haiti on a fundraising mission. Ballard opened a case for him, but soon found out that the case had been handed to the Haitian National Police. There were two problems: Ballard couldn’t step over lines of jurisdiction, and there were absolutely no leads.
But Ballard couldn’t get Gardy’s case out of his mind. He started to think…what if we started an organization that could bring the necessary resources to countries around the world and rescue kids like Gardy?
Ballard had worked with the government for twelve years. Many people discouraged him from leaving his secure job to start a nonprofit group. But he had a vision that others could not grasp – and the pieces started coming together.
“We recognized that we could tap into that fundamental desire to free other people, to serve other people, and that was the premise of our endeavor. We tapped into it, and people responded. People wanted to be a part of it.” – Tim Ballard
Amazing people wanted to be a part of it. Matt Osborne, our current SVP of Rescue and Recovery, left the CIA to join Ballard. The team began to grow, and Operation Underground Railroad took off.
O.U.R.’s first operation was in Haiti – Operation Voodoo Doll. Guesno knew of an illicit orphanage that he believed Gardy had gone through, but Guesno hadn’t been able to get in. It was blocked off by gates. He tried everything. He would even rent a room in the building across the street from the “orphanage,” get on the roof, and look through the gates with binoculars.
The O.U.R. undercover team worked with Haitian police to get into the orphanage with the front that they wanted to purchase children.
28 children were joyfully rescued that day, and the orphanage owner was arrested. However, Gardy was already gone.
We continue to follow all leads with Gardy’s case and will never give up on him. After all, Gardy was the one that inspired Tim Ballard to start Operation Underground Railroad.
“If I have to lose my son, so those 28 kids could be liberated, then that is a burden I am willing to bear.” – Guesno Mardy
2. Operation Triple-Take
“It’s very dramatic. Thirty armed guys come and have everybody lay down and they start handcuffing the traffickers,” Tim Ballard recalls. “One guy takes off running down the beach and I’m afraid he’s going to get away so I start running after him, but I make it look like I’m running with him. Then I grab his shirt and tell him the police are over in the direction he is heading. He turns and runs with me right into the police.”
As O.U.R. started gaining traction, our reach expanded quickly – we had opportunity to perform three operations in one day in Colombia. It was part of an idea that Ballard had. Would hitting the same region over and over again create enough of a deterrent for child traffickers? Would it be enough to completely halt the business in its dirty tracks?
Yes. When the O.U.R. team went back undercover for the fifth or sixth time after Operation Triple Take, no one would sell kids to them. “They referenced all of these hits that were going on,” Ballard said. The traffickers said, “It’s too dangerous to be in the child trafficking business in this region at this time.”
That was the moment that Tim Ballard and his team realized that the eradication of child sex trafficking was indeed possible – the deterrent effect worked.
Operation Triple Take resulted in the rescue of 123 victims and the arrest of twelve traffickers. For the time being, O.U.R. slammed the door shut on child traffickers in Colombia.
This Sunday marks the three year anniversary of this operation.
3. The Result of Filming Operations
To our knowledge, no child rescued on an O.U.R. operation has ever had to testify in court. The videos, photos, and audio recordings captured by the jump team do the talking for them.
This miracle came by happenstance when we decided to start work with law enforcement to film operations and get stories out in the media. We realized that the more evidence we gathered, the easier it was for the prosecutors to understand the case.
Often, the operators just carry a big camera like a tourist – this is not weird to the traffickers. Mark Mabry, accompanying Tim Ballard on one of the ops, said, “The second I met the bad guys and we met them at the dock, I was like, ‘Hey man! Selfie!’” Mabry recalled. “They just figure I’m a freak who wants to take pictures of the kids … I take a picture of the bad guy, he waves and smiles. I say ‘cheese,’ show him it on the back. The whole time I’m taking pictures.” They think it’s a party.
Technology and media has been a huge help to O.U.R. in protecting hundreds of survivors from ever having to testify in court, and deterring traffickers from selling more kids.
Making History Today
We are beyond grateful and fortunate to have had so much success since the beginning of Operation Underground Railroad, thanks to the law enforcement agencies and aftercare homes that are willing to partner with us, and also YOU. This is an ongoing battle that at times feels endless, but progress is being made at home and abroad. New laws are being passed, awareness is being spread, and the hope of giving more children freedom grows each day, because of everyone who is fighting this fight against sex trafficking together.
What can YOU Do?
This weekend marks the three year anniversary of Operation Triple-Take, when 123 victims were rescued and 12 traffickers arrested in Colombia. Click here to read what happened a year later.
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