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Tony Robbins: When a Dream Bucket List Leads to Change

Tony Robbins: When a Dream Bucket List Leads to Change

We are so incredibly grateful for Tony Robbins, his outstanding team and his generous supporters. They have been able to help us save dozens of children from slavery so far.

Watch the video below to find out how Tony came to find out about Operation Underground Railroad & you will be amazed what happens next.

The next time you think, “I’m just 1 person, I can’t possibly make a difference.” Think again!

The Slave Stealer

The Slave Stealer

(A Sneak Peek Into O.U.R.’s New Podcast)

There’s no denying it. The stories of Operation Underground Railroad rescuing children from sex traffickers have gripped people all around the world who were blissfully unaware that such horrendous acts take place. Now, O.U.R. Founder Tim Ballard, will be telling his stories on a new podcast launching today.

The podcast is the brainchild of Mark Mabry, who has extensive experience as a writer and producer, and has accompanied Ballard on several child rescue missions. “The Slave Stealer podcast connects Tim Ballard with people who want to join the fight against slavery,” says Mabry. “The conversations are candid, energetic and often emotional.”

Several episodes of Slave Stealer are already produced and ready to go with the first one available today at Ballard is the host of the show with Mabry being the on-air producer. “We have invited a few guests to early episodes, such as the former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, and television celebrities Montel Williams, Marisol Nichols and Glenn Beck,” says Mabry. offers a variety of information about child sex trafficking with some shows focusing on Ballard talking with Mabry about rescue missions and what goes into them, while others lend insight from a variety of influential sources.

“We have guests in order to illustrate that everybody has something to offer,” according to Mabry. “The fight against slavery and trafficking has multiple fronts. One high-influence person may have the ability to sway millions of opinions or raise millions of dollars. Another might be able to effect legislation, such as HR515. An inspired teenager might be able to help his peers identify the traffickers trap. Awareness needs to exist everywhere and the show helps us help influencers to go on the record and share the discussion with their own circles of influence.”

Tim Ballard is excited about the opportunity to help people understand the ‘ins and outs of trafficking.’ “The important thing about this podcast and about O.U.R. in general is how we are different. People ask us that and it’s such a dark subject and we try to be light. We try to bring light to it. We don’t just say, ‘Look at this horrible thing and what are we going to do and woe is me.’ We have to show that but then, we’re the light in this darkness because we’re not just talking about it. We’re actually saving kids. We’re actually extracting them. We’re actually providing tools that result in the rescue of kids and the arrest of traffickers and pedophiles. And that provides hope and that is what this podcast is about. It’s talking about the problem, but more importantly, it’s talking about a solution.”

Each SlaveStealer podcast runs between 30 and 40 minutes and can be downloaded with any number of apps found here Podcasts are free and anyone with a smart phone or computer can access them. Simply follow the link to and subscribe.

Subscribing to the podcast is free and we invite abolitionists everywhere to join us in spreading the word. It’s a great way for you to not only hear about what is going on with O.U.R. and human trafficking, but by increasing our audience we increase the potential for sponsors. And the more sponsors we have the greater potential we have for rescuing children from sex traffickers. So if you want to help fight child sex trafficking, subscribe right now. Here’s a sneak peak at the first podcast – click: SlaveStealer

Tim Ballard believes that everyone would help if they really knew what was going on, which is the point of the podcast. “People don’t know or they would do something.” Come listen to the Slave Stealer podcast and become an Abolitionist!

Written by: Cheryl L. Karr





The Danger Zone

The Danger Zone

The most dangerous part of rescuing children from traffickers may not be what you think. There are many steps leading up to the rescue and arrest. First and foremost, you have to do some reconnaissance. If you’re lucky, it all goes well. But, that’s not always the case as our Jump Teams discovered on one of its recent intelligence gathering missions.

Editor’s Note: The following are excerpts from an interview with OUR Founder and CEO Tim Ballard as he talks about his Jump Team exploring areas of Haiti in search of enslaved children.

Tim Ballard: We’re doing a lot of work in Haiti right now. Haiti is a very dangerous place.

We are working in certain regions in Haiti where there’s a lot of human trafficking going on with children, whether it’s for sex or for labor. We’re going into those very dangerous places. We went into one village earlier this year (2015), where we had a small team and had set up a medical clinic to help the people but also to gather intelligence.

We had 500 people come through our clinic. After we had treated most of the people at the clinic, the group of traffickers turned on us. They didn’t know why we were there, except to do this clinic, but they were thugs and thugs do thuggish things.

We became vulnerable as a bunch of Americans who were driving in decent cars and clearly had resources. They surrounded us with machetes and machine guns and started threatening our lives and wouldn’t let us leave this little village that we were in.

The village elders went back to talk about what they were going to do. Some people were yelling, just kill two of them and send a message, or take their car, or whatever. And we’re just listening to this and our fate was in the elders’ hands. The village elders came back out arguing and one of them said, “I think you guys are innocent and am grateful for what you did, but I can’t control this mob so it’s up to you.”

So, we just all kind of put our heads down and prayed and got in the car and decided to just move out. They had guns and I told my guys, “If they start shooting, just run them over and just get out of here.”

In the time that we were waiting things had calmed down. I’d sent one of my guys who is a former Navy SEAL out to kind of calm them and disperse the crowd. I mean, things got super tense.

The crowd dispersed enough and the five gunmen who were blocking the road had dropped to about two. Who knows where they went. They went to lunch or something and that allowed us to go for it and luckily the guys didn’t fire and we got out of there. It was a very intense moment.

Question: What did the elders find you innocent of?

Ballard: They were trying to accuse us of being there for other purposes. They were saying, “Why are you here? White guys don’t come and help us. What are you after?” And they were saying that maybe we ’d found oil on their land and we were here to steal their oil. They were just making up allegations – all the mobsters. It was just an excuse. It’s a mob mentality. It’s very scary. I mean, even people who we had just treated had turned on us within hours.

We were at the point with them that if somebody had accidently bumped into somebody, if one of my guys had bumped somebody and he pushed him back that could be it. Everyone starts picking up stones and starts throwing them or something. Mob mentality is a scary thing because nobody feels responsible and they all get riled up. So these guys were just trying to rile up the crowd against us, ultimately to try and steal stuff from us. I believe they wanted our stuff.

So, when the village elders came out they were saying, “We don’t believe you did anything, but that you were here to help.” The truth was we did have other motives for being there, but one of the motives was to help.

We were very moved emotionally by watching this happen. We had real doctors there, and there were mothers there who had never heard a doctor say their kid was healthy and they were crying to know that their kid had been checked out and there were cases where we just handed out penicillin and likely saved lives.

I mean these were places in Haiti where no one has seen a doctor. It was a secondary reason for being there but it turned out to be just as important. Usually, that’s how it is. Usually, the most dangerous part is the intel gathering. You’re going into the traffickers’ home. You’re going into their territory to get the intel.

By the time you get the intel and traffickers are bringing the kids to you where you meet, it’s still dangerous, but it’s less. It’s controlled. They’re coming to your house and bringing the kids. Or they’re going to a place where you’ve already stood up 20 cops around to be there to give you backup. So, the actual rescue part, and we do that by design too because now you’ve involved the kids and they’re here, and so we need to make it as safe as possible, generally, the intel gathering phase is always the most dangerous by far.

Written by: Cheryl L. Karr


Learning Life’s Lessons Reap Rewards for Operation Underground Railroad

Learning Life’s Lessons Reap Rewards for Operation Underground Railroad

The world is our biggest classroom and if you’re lucky enough to have a college professor who understands that, the lessons you learn will last a lifetime. Such is the case in Professor Ryan Gottfredson’s management classes at California State University – Fullerton.

“After my Fall 2014 semester, I was looking for a group project for my students that was more meaningful than the typical business case analysis. So I had the idea of having my students support a non-profit organization,” says Gottfredson.

In an effort to get his students to learn and practice management and leadership principles covered in his classes, Gottfredson tasked his student groups with developing and carrying out at least one event to raise money and awareness for Operation Underground Railroad. Gottfredson has now used these projects for two semesters across four Junior and Senior level class sections. Of his students’ experiences, he notes, “I believe that these group projects have been incredibly rewarding for all involved. I have received numerous comments from students stating that this was the best group project that they had ever worked on.”

The project took an entire year and involved three of his classes. There was MGMT 340 Organization Behavior, MGMT 442 Managerial Leadership, and then MGMT 443 Team Leadership Skills. “All of these groups were tasked with developing and carrying out at least one event to raise money and awareness for O.U.R.,” noted Gottfredson. “I believe it was an incredibly rewarding semester all around. I got numerous comments that this was the best group project that they had ever worked on.”

The students went to work enthusiastically knowing that their efforts were not only a class assignment but would truly help children all over the world. They organized Yard Sales and Donut Sales, Bowling Night and Poker Night, a CrossFit Competition and Soccer Tournament, just to name a few, in order to bring awareness to child sex trafficking and to help O.U.R. rescue children from traffickers. A noble goal in any classroom.

Today, it is estimated that there are over two million children being used as sex slaves. Some are kidnapped, some are trafficked by a family member, and some are just trying to survive. Operation Underground Railroad is trying to find them and rescue them from the clutches of the traffickers who use them. We also help them recover from the ordeal they have been through and start a new life, as well as have the traffickers arrested.

Across the two semesters, Gottfredson’s students have raised over $23,000 along with over $2000 in donated supplies and materials. [They] feel as if they saved four children through their efforts, which they are thrilled about,” says Gottfredson. “In all, it was a wonderful experience. I had many students tell me that these projects were life-changing for them, that they have never had the opportunity to do something so meaningful in college, and that they want to continue supporting O.U.R. and spread awareness of Operation Underground Railroad.”

We can support that type of thinking whole-heartedly! If you would like to join the cause please visit our web site at

Written by: Cheryl L. Karr

Looking Within Operation Underground Railroad

Looking Within Operation Underground Railroad

Looking Within O.U.R

In the two short years that Operation Underground Railroad has been operating, hundreds of victims of sex trafficking have been rescued all around the world and O.U.R. is growing faster than even its Founder and CEO, Tim Ballard anticipated.

That can be a challenge, but one that O.U.R. welcomes. With growth, more victims of sex trafficking are being rescued from the dark hole they find themselves in and are being helped to start a new life. Perpetrators are being taken off the streets resulting in a residual effect that is difficult to measure. Relationships with governments and NGOs are being established, building bridges and expanding influence and effectiveness worldwide. New tools are being developed to dig deeper and train others to help in the cause. And O.U.R. has invited hundreds of volunteers to join in the process. In other words, O.U.R. is moving mountains.

Rescuing Victims of Sex Trafficking

Operation Underground Railroad’s first and main objective is to rescue children who are enslaved by sex traffickers and to heal them. It is estimated that there are at least two million children worldwide in this situation. They are not only in third world countries, although O.U.R. has focused much of its work in these areas.

The United States, as well as other developed countries, also shares much of this shame; and this year O.U.R. anticipates rescuing more victims in the U.S. than anywhere else. “I predict that in 2016 we will see more arrests inside the United States than outside the United States,” says Ballard. “Not that our numbers outside the United States will decrease. They won’t. But, we’re going to have more arrests this year, I think in 2016 in the United States than outside and it’s because of the work we’ve been able to do in 2015.”

Operation Underground Railroad’s first rescue occurred December 2013 in Haiti. Listed as one of the poorest countries in the world, O.U.R. discovered an illegal orphanage selling children for between US$5,000-$15,000 and rescued 28 children which are now safe in a legal orphanage. Additional rescues have occurred in Colombia, Mexico, Peru, The Dominican Republic, Thailand, India, Nicaragua, Uganda, and the United States.

“In our first year we were mostly invited by foreign governments who knew they needed help immediately,” says Ballard. But that is beginning to change as local U.S. governments see what O.U.R. is accomplishing. “In the U.S. we have more experienced law enforcement agencies and so they’re less likely to look for help on the outside, until they saw what we were doing overseas,” noted Ballard. “Not all of them, but many of them came to us and said, ‘You know, we’re not even doing that here,’ and that was so great to hear because I knew that, but I knew in my first year I was going to have a hard time because it’s not a partnership, that law enforcement, especially in the United States, are used to doing, this private/public partnership.”

However, helping victims out of their situation is only part of the job. We don’t considered victims truly rescued until they have been healed and O.U.R. has made huge strides in working with organizations that help these victims return to their families or learn a skill so that they can find employment.

How Many Victims has O.U.R. Rescued?

How many have been rescued? This is a question we hear a lot at O.U.R. but the answer is actually more complicated than it appears. Ballard explains, “This is a debate we have with Jerry (Gowen), our COO, about naming the number, the exact number of kids we’ve pulled out and I don’t like doing it because it’s not accurate. For example, we’ve rescued girls who have later become informants for the police who then go out and rescue 20 more. We might not have been there but that was the result.”

Additional examples include joint rescues with government officials that create a media buzz. “After the four operations we did in Colombia we found that when we went back into those cities and tried to look for it again it had shut down completely. No one would even talk about selling kids. And they’d reference all the media about the rescues we had done and of course, they didn’t know who they were talking to. We were the ones who had created that media storm. So there’s the deterrent effect,” says Ballard. “There are kids who aren’t being trafficked right now, who never knew they might have been or who are going to be, because of the deterrent effect.”

An additional deterrent includes the number of law enforcement personnel that have been trained by O.U.R. to replicate what O.U.R. has shown them.

So, what’s the answer in cold hard numbers? “I will tell you there are 404 victims that we’ve actually seen and been able to put in a safe place. But that is not representative of what we’ve done,” says Ballard.

How Many Sex Traffickers have been Arrested?

How many have been arrested? That’s the number that’s most important according to Ballard. “One number I would focus on are the people we put in jail,” says Ballard. “Because one person, one trafficker, one pedophile in jail, how many kids does that save over a lifetime? Dozens likely. These guys will abuse children by the dozens and so the fact that he’s behind bars, so again, how many kids will not be abused or will not be trafficked and they never knew they were going to be. That’s our goal. That’s our number. Who knows what it is, but it’s enormous.”

To date the arrest number stands at 122, but continues to grow with each rescue and follow-up. Jail sentences vary depending on the country but most are put away for between 7-25 years.

O.U.R.’s Partnerships

Operation Underground Railroad has made huge advances in developing partnerships with local and foreign governments as well as NGOs (Non-Government Organizations). These groups have been invaluable in helping to rescue and rehabilitate victims of sex trafficking, as well as making sure the perpetrators are prosecuted and punished. American Ambassadors in various countries have helped to coordinate unity with law enforcement, while the United Nations has provided a platform to bring awareness to the issue.

We’ve also partnered with recovery groups that help these victims get back on their feet. We have social workers that help them deal with the trauma they’ve been through and talented teachers who teach them employable skills so that they can support themselves.

O.U.R.’s Technology

Operation Underground Railroad is continually developing technology that will help law enforcement identify and locate the bad guys. “The Director of our cyber division is doing amazing things,” acknowledged Ballard. “Unfortunately, we can’t talk about all these things, but I’ve always said, that is our future. The future of O.U.R. is in these digital tools that we’re developing and distributing to law enforcement to allow them to find pedophiles who are traveling, find pedophiles who are visiting to places where there are children. Tools that will just be absolutely invaluable to law enforcement around the world and the United States to root out the most evil amongst us that hurt our children. So, that progress has been a huge highlight for us in 2015. The problem is it’s so sensitive that we’ll never be able to get into the details of it.”

O.U.R’s Volunteers

Perhaps the biggest contribution to helping find these precious children and victims of sex trafficking is the volunteers who have come to O.U.R. from all walks of life. It is truly inspiring to see the dedication and commitment they have. They organize 5K runs, donate their cars, hold fundraisers, garage sales, become abolitionists, etc. to help the cause; and because O.U.R. is one hundred percent supported by donations, they are an integral part of everything we do. And we couldn’t do it without them.

2016 and Beyond

Two years ago Operation Underground Railroad started with one man who believed he could make a difference. He saw the evil in this world and tries every day to eradicate it. To date over 404 victims of sex slavery have been rescued and at least 122 perpetrators arrested because he had the courage to stand up and fight.

O.U.R.’s future is bright. We are well positioned to grow not only in the number of rescues and arrests, but in helping others to join the fight with training, technology, fundraising, legislation, and preventative and aftercare for victims. We are making a difference and we invite you to join us. Visit our web site at on ways you can help. 2016 is going to be a great year!

Written by: Cheryl L. Karr




Reflections of 2015

Reflections of 2015

The end of the year is a time of reflection – a time to evaluate our successes and failures; our weaknesses and strengths. To acknowledge that even though we have accomplished much, there is still so much more to do.

Operation Underground Railroad is extremely grateful to have you as part of our team. With you we can conquer mountains, slay dragons, and fight the good fight. Without you, we are nothing.

Because of you, literally hundreds of children are free today that would otherwise be caught in the ugly web of sex trafficking. Because of you, human traffickers are paying the price for their choices and learning that there are consequences. Because of you, the streets are safer, law enforcement agencies are stronger, and human trafficking is becoming a dangerous occupation.

O.U.R.’s ultimate goal is to eradicate sex slavery around the world. It may seem insurmountable but we believe we can do this! YOU can do this! Together we WILL do this! May God bless you for your sacrifice and generosity.


Tim Ballard

Operation Underground Railroad Founder and CEO

One Hundred Fifty Years of Freedom

One Hundred Fifty Years of Freedom

“Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation,” Martin Luther King, Jr. told a stirring crowd August 28, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial, in Washington, D. C.

“This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity,” he continued.

But even Reverend King recognized in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech that passing a law does not free men make. What became the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified December 6, 1865, one hundred and fifty years ago this month, abolishing slavery once and for all in the United States of America.

Yet, today that fight for freedom continues, not only on the red hills of Georgia or the plains of Tennessee, but in the hidden corridors of India and on the back streets of Thailand and Colombia. Enslavement now wears multiple faces with varied descriptions and runs rampant not only in the United States but throughout the world.

Even with all our enlightenment, slavery is now more prominent than at any other time in the history of the world with an estimated 30 million enslaved. They are sex slaves, labor slaves, and child brides. Over two million children are being masqueraded as child prostitutes today. They are in all parts of the world and speak a variety of languages. You may see them and not even know it. When will it stop?

Creating laws to end slavery is only the beginning. Freedom for all will only become reality when it is firmly rooted in the hearts and minds of just men and women everywhere. As a result, freedom continues to be an elusive dream for many. Today, it is estimated that two million children are being trafficked as sex slaves; one hundred thousand of those are in the United States.

At Operation Underground Railroad, we are committed to “…proclaim liberty to the captives…,” Isaiah 61:1. We do this in a number of ways including identifying sex slaves and literally going in and rescuing them from their captors and ensuring the abusers are arrested by always working with law enforcement. And we risk our lives every time we do it, but we do it because we know it is the right thing to do.

We also work with other Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in countries around the world to not only rescue the enslaved, but help them with recovery and education so they can stand on their own and avoid the victimization that they were put into in the first place.

We say to you, “Join us!” Join the fight and be the voice for so many children who have been silenced. Together we can eliminate this scourge on the earth. There are a number of things you can do. Go to our web site at for ideas on ways to help. Start your own fundraising campaign, buy products from the O.U.R. store, educate others, or volunteer your time and talents.

We share Dr. King’s dream to be able to “…join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last!” With your help we are making that dream a reality for all.

Written by: Cheryl L. Karr






Giving Tuesday is for Giving Freedom

Giving Tuesday is for Giving Freedom

Join the Thunderclap for Operation Underground Railroad December 1st –

But you need to act NOW!

O.U.R. is participating in #GivingTuesday to raise money to end human trafficking and help in the recovery efforts of those we rescue.
  • Our goal is to raise $50,000 on December 1, the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving to allow people to give their thanks for the privileges they have that many of those we rescue do not.  Here is how you can help:
  • SHARE ON SOCIAL MEDIA – To help you easily share and not forget to share on this day, we’ve utilized Thunderclap to get everyone sharing at the same time on #GivingTuesday. To sign up for our Thunderclap campaign and schedule your message to post at the same time as everyone else, please go to:, and click the “login/register” link in the upper-right. Once you’ve registered and supplied your Facebook or Twitter accounts, you can schedule a post to go out automatically at the same time as everyone else. We are trying to get 500 people to do this! Throughout that day we encourage you to keep posting! We will be using the hashtags, #GivingTuesday and #GivingFreedom throughout the day if you want to post and participate in the conversation. Feel free to share and post the things we’ll share on our social media channels on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Google+ throughout that day.
  • JOIN THE EMAIL LIST – For those on the email list, we will be sending updates leading up to the campaign to give you updates and provide resources you can use to share on #GivingTuesday. To sign up for the email list just visit and put your email in the box below “Send me updates about missions and ways to help.”
  • DONATE – We are trying to raise money to help children who are the victims of sex traffickers by rescuing them and helping them throughout their recovery. We plan to raise $50,000 to help them. To follow our progress please find our #GivingFreedom campaign on

Your donations help many causes related to ending Human Trafficking. Thank you.

*Thunderclap is a tool that allows many people to all post on social media at the same time. They sign up with their Facebook and Twitter accounts, and it then posts automatically for them on the date and time specified to start a wave of sharing on the day we launch the campaign. We are hoping to get 500 people to sign up for this thunderclap.




Operation Red Sari

Operation Red Sari

“Shanthi’s” big brown eyes reveal a life void of happiness and hope even though she has just been rescued from a life few of us can imagine. Trafficked since she was just nine years old in Bangladesh, the fifteen year-old has few memories of a childhood free from slavery.

Operation Underground Railroad became aware of Shanthi while partnering with the Indian Rescue Mission. In this particular case IRM investigators located her through a confidential informant who introduced them to a local pimp. He told them he could get minor girls for the “purchase of sex.”

15 Year-Old Rescued from Brothel
15 Year-Old Rescued from Brothel


As with all cases that O.U.R. is involved with, local law enforcement was then contacted and partnered with in the investigation. A raid of the brothel was organized and Shanthi was rescued along with a few other victims. The raid was covered by various news outlets and used as a warning to others who are involved in the sex trade. Two traffickers were arrested.

In partnering with IRM, O.U.R. utilizes local resources which is the most efficient use of funds in India and Bangladesh. It also empowers local police and NGOs to continue to search for and rescue victims.

As for Shanthi, little is known at this time concerning her or her family. We do know that she was initially “broken in” to the sex trade by three men in Bangladesh and immediately following the raid she was sent to a government run shelter where she received medical and emotional care.

One of O.U.R.’s undercover team members recently saw her in India and said she is doing well and is out of the shelter now. She aspires to go to college and is currently in the sewing program which O.U.R. has previously reported on. We will continue to monitor her care and help her on her journey to a new life.

James and members of the Indian Rescue Mission
James and members of the Indian Rescue Mission

This rescue would not have been possible without the help of IRM. For more information on our NGO partner Indian Rescue Mission please visit their web site Indian Rescue.

Written by: Cheryl L. Karr

Don’t Dance with Evil, and Don’t Legalize the Sex Trade

Don’t Dance with Evil, and Don’t Legalize the Sex Trade

OUR logo

An Editorial Opinion by Operation Underground Railroad

– Today Amnesty International (AI) announced its plan to support a new policy that calls for the decriminalization of the sex trade, resulting in widespread ire from many of its staunch supporters, including many Hollywood celebrities.

AI is a wonderful organization whose primary mission statement is to fight injustice and promote human rights, but it appears to view the multi-billion dollar sex trade as a legitimate business that needs to protect its “workers” by supporting the legalization of prostitution. AI believes it will be fighting injustice against sex workers who are discriminated against. In reality, this new policy will have the opposite effect, particularly in the area of child sex trafficking.

With millions of children stuck in its grasps, sex trafficking is a monstrous crime against humanity, and it occurs every day around the world. I have seen its victims, innocent and afraid, and its perpetrators–pure evil with a smile. I recall a recent experience in Colombia with a sex trafficker named Carlos.*

Carlos smiled at me with darkness in his eyes.

“This is the Princess,” he said, “she is twelve years old, a virgin, and she can be yours for one thousand U.S. dollars. I leaned in and looked at the photograph on the cell phone in Carlos’ hand. It depicted a fully dressed girl that looked to be about eleven or twelve years old. Carlos assured me that upon payment her clothes would be taken off and she would be mine for the night.

Images of my own daughter, close to Princess’ age, immediately flashed through my mind. I felt sick, but after more than a decade of working these heinous investigations, I had learned to smile through the nausea and act overjoyed at the offer. I looked around and saw that the seasoned Colombian undercover police officers at my side, along with the U.S. undercover operators I had brought from my team, were also smiling through the pain, convincing Carlos that we were the “real deal.” We were traveling tourists from out of town, with money, who had come to Colombia to engage in sex with children.

We left Carlos and his thugs at the beachfront restaurant with handshakes and hugs, and a promise that we would return shortly to purchase Princess and the other girls and boys Carlos controlled. As we loaded into our vehicles, we made another promise to each other and to those enslaved children–we would get them out of slavery’s darkness.

The memory of this recent experience on a remote Colombian beach fills my mind as I read AI’s misguided plan to support the legalization of the sex trade. Why is this plan misguided? Because it is the very criminalization of the sex trade that can protect victims like Princess and prosecute beasts like Carlos. By decriminalizing prostitution, AI and others who support this policy put at risk the very people it was created to protect–women and children–and rob justice from those that have been victimized by this vile business.

There are already far too few tools to protect the innocent, and one of those tools is governments’ ability to enforce laws against the sex trade. We should increase the tools available to protect the innocent and mete out justice to the criminals, not take them away.

AI probably has its heart in the right place, and probably believes this new policy will protect the innocent while maximizing the liberty of those adult clients and adult “sex workers” that want to enjoy the mutually beneficial and harmless transaction of consensual “sex for money.”

Let’s break down this train of logic. In Amnesty’s resolution, “Draft Policy on Sex Work,” 1 it argues that pimps and johns should be free from government interference and be permitted to exercise their autonomy. The argument is based on the idea that those being sold want to be sold, because it is their chosen profession. While certainly some have made that choice the idea dangerously ignores the backstory of those who “choose” prostitution. We must consider how many of these men and women were enslaved in the sex industry as children and now as adults who don’t see any other option. Is that a choice? We must also consider the enormous number of prostitutes that suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and numerous sexually transmitted diseases. We must also acknowledge statistical confirmation that a disproportionate number of prostitutes are survivors of rape and child sex abuse. Do we really think that any of these men or women happily dreamed as children that one day they would grow up to sell their bodies for sex?

But, for the sake of argument, let’s suspend reality for a moment and assume that most prostitutes are happy, willing, un-coerced sex workers. In its new policy, AI argues that if pimps can’t run their businesses legally then, not only are sex workers denied an honest wage, but it threatens the rights to “health and public health interventions, in particular HIV prevention.” This, of course, is not a new argument. The idea is basic: by legalizing prostitution, governments can regulate it. Prostitutes can get tested regularly for HIV or other STDs and be certified by the government as “safe” sex workers. They can be provided condoms by the state as well as other health promoting protection. Perhaps most importantly, by bringing government into the sex industry, government officials can separate the proverbial “wheat from the tares;” that is, they can help and support those pimps selling consenting adults while keeping a close eye and pointed gun upon those who would traffic or otherwise sell children for sex. Indeed, Amnesty is very clear that its policy will continue to criminalize child exploitation and child trafficking. Seems like a perfect solution, but it is not!

Shortly after saying goodbye to Carlos at the beach, my team of undercover operatives, along with the Colombian police, were back in his dark presence. He and his thugs showed up at a rented vacation home with dozens of girls to sell for sex. My team, led by a Colombian special law enforcement unit, were posing as the johns. As the girls arrived, my eyes met Princess. No more than twelve years old. My heart broke. Again, I saw my own daughter’s innocence in her frightened eyes. But we had to pretend to be pleased with what we saw. We began the negotiation with Carlos for these young girls, many of whom Carlos claimed he had recruited at the age of nine. Most of them had been lured out of their homes on the ruse that they would be trained as professional models. But they were kidnapped and sold for sex instead. He wanted one thousand dollars for the virgins he had been grooming –he had four of them, including Princess. He was selling the others for less money. Of the over 50 girls and boys he brought, 29 were minors. The rest were adults (barely). Groups that support the legalization of this trade might label them “sex workers.”

And here is where this model completely breaks down, logically and pragmatically. The legalize-and-regulate approach does not work because people like Carlos are running the businesses. Carlos was certainly not the first pimp I had dealt with, nor was this sting operation the first I had helped put together. I’ve seen the pattern play out dozens of times. Pimps like Carlos control girls of all ages. If you want adults, he’ll serve you. You want kids–no problem. Some might want to believe that the world is full of ethical pimps that will only sell consenting adults. However, for those of us in the trenches every day, we know that the term “ethical pimp” is an oxymoron. I’m not suggesting that all pimps sell children. But, in a business where premiums are paid for children and virgins, it’s naive to believe that most pimps will leave the children alone.

Indeed, nobody would love this policy shift more than Carlos. Why? Because it protects him. Amnesty’s policy dictates that sex workers have the right to hire “security or support staff” to organize and to access protection.” This new policy also calls for the right of “brothel keeping.” This is sweet music to Carlos’ ears. This policy legitimizes Carlos as a businessman and legalizes his business. Make law enforcement his friend, and he will happily show them his adult sex workers. He will proudly demonstrate to them with a smile how he provides his sex workers with state purchased condoms and HIV tests.

But Carlos will never show his new government friends his parallel business – the one where Princess is chained, sold and raped. Even better for Carlos, most developing nations will barely have enough resources to regulate the legalized sex business, leaving even less opportunity to look deeper into Carlos’ other activities.

Having worked with dozens of law enforcement units in developing nations, I believe that their lack of resources will reduce the legalize-and-regulate approach to a government form where boxes are checked and a smiling “compliant” Carlos is left to his own devices. A false sense of security will surround law enforcement efforts, and trafficked children will remain in even deeper darkness and with even less hope of rescue. And that government form that Carlos will submit to officials will not reveal how many of his adult “sex workers” are graduates of his “modeling school” where they matriculated at age nine.

Fortunately, there is solid empirical data that backs the conclusions made from my more anecdotal experiences. In 1999-2000, the Netherlands and Sweden passed laws, respectively, that took very opposite approaches to prostitution. The Netherlands legalized it and tried their hand at regulation. Sweden, on the other hand, criminalized the acts of pimps and johns, while not penalizing the prostitutes themselves (a measure which appropriately helps officials see prostitutes as victims not criminals). The results were very telling. Prostitution in Sweden dropped by 41% in the first five years while the price for sex dropped as well. Pimps like Carlos found it quite easy to present their legal sex businesses as a shield and protection for their illegal operations. Furthermore, because of the lenient policy in the Netherlands, sex tourists swarm there, making it a high profitable region for pimps, who will happily sell sex to them, legally or illegally. Award winning New York Times journalists Nicholas Dristof and Sheryl WuDunn concluded the following from their study of the differing approaches. “The Bottom Line?” they wrote, “Customers can easily find an underage Eastern European girl working as a prostitute in Amsterdam, but not in Stackholm.”2

Are there pimps out there that only sell willing adults? Sure. Are there prostitutes out there that truly want to do this and enjoy the profession? Sure. But, while I’m not uncompassionate to those who believe it is their right to engage in the legal sex trade, I fear those who make the argument ignore Princess. Perhaps because I’ve seen dozens of Princesses, or because I know there are millions of Princesses trafficked in the world today, I refuse to forget her. I will prioritize her rescue from Hell far, far above the sexual desires of adult men and women who want to buy and sell a “quickie” in a cheap hotel room. Are not children our most precious resource? Should not their protection be our first consideration? Again, Amnesty says in its new policy that law enforcement should protect trafficked children and arrest child traffickers. But the tragic irony is that this plan would effectively obstruct law enforcement from doing just that.

After Carlos took the money for Princess and her fellow victims, a Colombian SWAT team entered the rented house and quickly and efficiently arrested Carlos and his minions. (My team and I were also “arrested” in a pre-planned ruse to keep our cover. On the heals of the arrests, an army of social workers, including therapists from state and private institutions, entered the scene and took control. They began the long healing process with the victims. Due to a misstep in the aftermath, someone told the victims that the American tourists were actually working with the police. Tears filled these young girls’ eyes as they applauded us and said thank you through screened windows, even as we were hauled off in handcuffs. The adult women were rightfully not prosecuted, but instead, were offered the same rehabilitation being applied to the children. (While I can’t support the legitimization of pimps, I do applaud Amnesty’s efforts to ensure prostitutes are taken care of properly and offered aid where needed).

Months after this and several other operations we conducted in four different Colombian cities, I was walking side-by-side with my Colombian counterpart down a street known for prostitution. Acting our seasoned roles as sex tourists from out of town, we engaged several street vendors who, months earlier, would have introduced us to sex traffickers. But this time it was different. Instead of encouraging sex with children, the vendors warned us. “Have you not seen the news?” they cautioned us in hushed tones. “Have you not heard about the many American tourists and Colombian pimps who were arrested? Don’t try to have sex with little girls, man. Nobody will sell that to you here anymore.” We walked away from the scene and I looked over at the Colombian undercover agent at my side. Tears filled his eyes. Once we were in the clear, he turned to me and exclaimed, “It’s working!

Indeed, law enforcement action works! Crackdowns work! Criminalization of pimps and johns works! Legalization proponents might argue that these crackdowns are still possible, even encouraged, under their policy. But their policy will create, enable and legitimize far too many “Carloses” for law enforcement’s already scarce resources. This new policy will unintentionally create far too many dark lairs where Princesses can be hidden and further abused. Furthermore, this policy will now create swarms of sex tourists coming to enjoy legal sex, unintentionally creating the perfect environment for pedophiles to slip in the back door, undetected, and abuse children. And finally, the policy inherently will add to law enforcement’s already over-filled plate by requiring regulatory enforcement of the now legal side of the business. This, of course, affords even less opportunity for law enforcement to go after child sex slavery and other cases of forced prostitution. Sex slaves will remain enslaved. In fact, their slavery will now be more secure than ever.

Sadly, Amnesty International thinks that they can dance with Carlos, and thus make the world a better pace. But this dance would just as soon sell their own 12 year-old daughters down the river to child rapists for a few hundred dollars. When it comes to protecting the most precious among us, you don’t dance with evil. You eliminate it.


*Names have been altered 1. Amnesty International, “Draft Policy on Sex Work,” available at 2. Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (New York: Vintage Books, 2009), 31-32


                  Timothy Ballard is the Founder and CEO of Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.). Ballard began his career at the Central Intelligence Agency where he worked cases dealing with terrorism and Latin America. He has spent over a decade working as a Special Agent for the Department of Homeland Security where he was assigned to the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and deployed as an undercover operative for the U.S. Child Sex Tourism Jump Team. He has worked every type of case imaginable in the fight to dismantle child trafficking rings. Ballard has worked undercover in the United States and in multiple foreign countries to infiltrate child trafficking organizations. In this effort he has successfully dismantled dozens of these organizations and rescued countless children from sex slavery. He is an expert at managing Internet investigations, particularly those dealing with file-share networks where pedophiles and traffickers go to trade in child pornography. Through the establishment of O.U.R., he has trained hundreds of law enforcement officers at home and abroad in best practices to liberate children from sex slavery.                   Ballard has been featured on many national news outlets to discuss his efforts to combat child trafficking. He has appeared on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, The Meredith Vieria Show, CBS Nightly News, ABC Nightline, and CNN Headline News, MSNBC, the Glenn Beck Program as well as many local news shows. Ballard graduated Cum Laude with a BA in Spanish and Political Science from Brigham Young University. He went on to graduate Summa Cum Laude with an MA in International Politics from the Monterey Institute of International Studies.