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O.U.R. 2016 Mid-Year Review: An Intimate Talk With Tim Ballard

O.U.R. 2016 Mid-Year Review: An Intimate Talk With Tim Ballard

The following are excerpts from a filmed interview with Tim Ballard on the progress Operation Underground Railroad has made in the first half of 2016.

Tim Ballard:

We have made huge strides this year. The thing I’m most impressed with is that half way through the year we’ve already seen as many or more rescues and arrests as we did last year. We’re probably close to double in terms of the countries we’re working in and the partners that we have.

We have been highly requested here in the States to work in several jurisdictions. We’ve met with several law enforcement officials in various states and set a goal that we would see at least one hundred pedophiles arrested in one year’s time. And just a couple of weeks ago, in the middle of summer we hit that goal. We surpassed it in fact, with over a hundred pedophiles.

These are people that were seeking for children on line as young as nine years old. And we were able to provide the tools to pull these guys out, and inevitably be able to find the children who were actually being abused. So we’re very proud of that accomplishment.

CET-COE:

One of the great accomplishments this year was the announcement of our CET-COE, Child Exploitation Targeting Center of Excellence which is housed at the University of North Carolina, in Charlotte.

We’re actually set up right now to be doing the very unique and different types of operations that we haven’t see a whole lot of yet, using a lot of high-tech strategies to go in and find children who need rescuing and get these horrible, perverted people off the streets.

Technology:

The technology we’re developing is for everybody. In fact, sometimes it’s geared towards law enforcement overseas who just have such limited resources and they don’t have a lot of man power so we can make up for that through tools that allow one cop to do the work of five. And it doesn’t cost them anything.

One reason that we created Operation Underground Railroad is because we saw this need. These law enforcement officers with great hearts, with a desire to help and make their country better, but they had no resources.

O.U.R. Short Term Goals:

We have quite a few operations set for the rest of the year. We’ve already hit our goals, so we’re going to keep pushing, and may exceed expectations. There are multiple countries who have asked us to come in. We’ve already started setting up shop there so we’ll be seeing more operations from now to the end of the year in various places throughout the world.

We’re not meeting our demands though. It’s very difficult for us to sit back and say, ‘Where do we go?’ because we could go almost anywhere now. This is why we need to grow financially. We need more people to become abolitionists because we are not even meeting the demands of law enforcement around the world who need these tools; who need our support.

O.U.R Long Term Goals:

We’ve always talked about setting up offices overseas and we’re starting to do that. These offices are like targeting centers; they’re labs. We are focused on the high technology side to attack this problem. And you’re going to see a lot of more permanent offices in the next several years, offices in various countries that are sponsored in part or fully by Operation Underground Railroad. These offices will be high tech in nature, in terms of the tools that we’re offering, and integrating because with these tools, one police officer can do the work of five officers.

We need to be a force multiplier in this problem. There are way too many kids out there relative to how many police there are looking for them. We built our tools with that in mind. ‘How can we maximize whatever resources are already out there? How can we maximize that?’ Become a force multiplier because with five times the cop power, we rescue five times the kids.

Partnerships:

Our partnerships are mostly focused on the rehabilitation end of things. It’s so important; in fact, it’s the most important thing that we do. We have to have in place something for the rescued children because so often the parents are not suitable or there are no parents or they are part of the problem.

We’ve really recognized that we need to put more into the rehab side and that’s a really delicate thing. We go into these countries that are very developing and we don’t always find the rehab partners that we want, so we have to spend a lot of time building them up.

One country that we are in right now, took us a year to get operational, even though the law enforcement officers in that country were green-lighting the operations. Now, we’re about to do our fourth operation in that particular country because that part (aftercare) is in place.

We hired a new director of rehab, Jessica Mass, who just does an amazing job. She’s partnered with rehab places, facilities, shelters, here in every state in the United States and in every country that we’ve been in, over 15 countries. She has gone and spent a tremendous amount of time finding our partners who we know, that when we have these children, we’re comfortable placing them there.

It’s so rewarding to watch some of these survivors become thrivers. We go back all the time, multiple times a year. ‘How are they doing? What do they need?’ This one wants to be a chef; this one wants to go to college. We can help with that. And we’re watching these stories unfold now. That’s a new development, an exciting development for us.

In 2016, I’d say one of our biggest highlights is the expansion and growth of our aftercare program and the wonderful partners that we’ve been able to make and trust, and watch the kids go there and know they have a chance.

Recruiting:

First and foremost our jump team members have to be brave. I mean, we’re asking them to do very dangerous things. Go into a foreign county. Go in undercover. Walk into a trafficker’s house who would just as soon kill them if they knew who they were.

We seek out law enforcement officers who have experience in rescuing children in anti-trafficking enforcement. It’s so important that these people have the utmost integrity; that they have good hearts. One thing we do, and frankly it’s on purpose, is when we do these tryouts and the training, we ask them to pay for part of that expense of coming over here. And that’s because we want to see who really cares.

I know that every guy that I recruited, especially in the beginning, had to walk away from pensions. They had to walk away from government security. And the fact that they were willing to do that told me that that’s who I want on my team. If you don’t have the heart for this, you’re not going to last long. It’s great to see these people who are willing to fly themselves here and sacrifice financially just to have the chance to make the team.

The Jump Team:

I think very few people are willing to do what our operators do. I mean you sacrifice your innocence in ways that are so incredibly uncomfortable and painful that it’s very rare to find someone to do this.

These kids are in hell. We’ve seen things that you can’t even imagine happen in hell. And the only way to get to those kids is to go in there. You’ve got to be willing go in there and not flinch while you’re there. Anyone willing to do that is just so amazing to me.

It’s like someone willing to run into a burning building. That’s what these guys do every day. It’s a different kind of burning building but it’s no less precarious, no less dreadful and they do it. And I’m so proud to associate with some of these operators that we have working for us – amazing guys – and girls.

Rescues:

It’s imperative to us that our policies on rescue operations are very clear to our partners and donors. We are not a vigilante group. We work with and under the jurisdiction of law enforcement agencies that officially and formally bring us on board. If that doesn’t happen, we don’t operate. But, once we are official we move forward.

Every operation is so different. Our operators will go, usually pretending to be like the other tourists, looking for illicit contact with kids. And then they infiltrate it, and this is where their expertise comes into play in that region; they’ll go in and know how to talk and what to say; how to dig in.

Other times it’s very specific; as specific as, here is this child who’s missing. We can come in with our technology, teach them. We’ve had cases where we look at facial recognition technology that allows us to go in and identify this child that was taken and maybe being sold in a different continent. So it really does vary.

A lot of what we’re doing now though, is targeting pedophiles and traffickers using tools that allow us to exploit places on the Internet where kids are being sold. The dark net is a place where people work with impunity because they think no one’s watching. We’re trying to build tools to help law enforcement to get to those places quicker and more efficiently and understand that world so they can pull these kids out.

Case Story:

In one case, this individual had this child that was being exploited. It was quite a distance from our office and we were expecting to go do the operation the following week. But our operators who are experts on line, were able to identify that this was a problem that couldn’t even wait three days.

And because we have such awesome donors and awesome supporters, they were made aware of the emergency without giving them details. One of our donors said, ‘You need to get somewhere to save kids? Just get to the airport. My plane will be waiting for you.’

I literally left the my kid’s basketball game that I was coaching with nothing, jumped in my car and sped to the airport, got on that plane and had that guy arrested and those kids saved, and those kids placed in safety within 12 to 15 hours. That was an emotional case just because we knew we had to get there fast. But, this is where we have the kind of comparative advantage where we can just go.

The whole flight over I have her image in my head. Five years old and we were able to get to her and pull her out of that situation and that guy’s in jail right now.

The Danger For Children

It’s usually men, perverted men have access to children in various ways; sometimes their own children or a niece or a nephew. They take advantage of the situation where the parents are out of the picture for some reason and they take this child under their wing, so-to-speak, but really they’re grooming them and exploiting them.

They go on line and start selling, sometimes they want to exchange this child for someone else’s child and they want to set up these horrific dark escapades. All I can say is that we have the tools and the ability to have law enforcement intervene in those deals. To find out where they’re happening and when they’re happening, intervene, intercept the deal, and then infiltrate and dismantle.

Eradicating Child Sex Trafficking:

That’s still the goal. We know that it can work. It works on a small scale. We go into one city, do several operations, and we shut it down. At the end of our operations, we can’t find anyone who’s willing to sell kids, all of them citing the previous operations that we previously conducted.

If it works on a small scale, why can’t it work on a large sale? We just need more people, more organizations, and more governments on board. If we made the response to selling kids for sex so powerful, you could literally scare people from thinking about doing it. That’s our goal.

I do believe that we can eradicate this. It’s going to take a long time, but with enough support and enough growth, we are building the tools that can eradicate this.

What You Can Do:

We need your help to make a difference. If you haven’t donated to our cause, please visit our web site at OURrescue.org and start today. Every dollar helps rescue children and ensures they receive the recovery care they need. If you already donate, please take the opportunity to evaluate if you can give more. We’ve already completed more rescues to date in 2016 than we did in all of 2015. We need your support to continue at this pace and fund additional rescue operations. We can’t do it without you. Thank you!

Interviewed and Edited by: Cheryl L. Karr

Operation Fortuna: A Series Of (Un)fortunate Events

Operation Fortuna: A Series Of (Un)fortunate Events

 

 

The Caribbean –

5 Minors Rescued – 1 Trafficker Arrested

 

It was obvious right from the very beginning that the suspected trafficker was greedy, ambitious, and inexperienced. And it was ultimately, what led to her downfall and the rescue of five girls between the ages of 14 and 17.

Operation Underground Railroad had initially come to this lush Caribbean country at the invitation of the American Embassy and the country’s government authorities. They were establishing a working relationship with the national police in order to conduct undercover operations and rescue children from sex trafficking as O.U.R. does wherever it goes.

An advance team from O.U.R. had come to scout out the resort areas of the island and gather intelligence. Three suspected traffickers were identified, each with his own cadre of young girls to offer the western tourists. “These traffickers readily give up personal information: real names, cell phone numbers, pictures of the girls, and where they live, because they don’t suspect anything. We’re not locals,” the team leader said.

Three traffickers translates into three different trafficking networks, each with his own group of business associates, girls and clients. Of greatest concern was that some of these girls were not only for sale for the evening; they were “for sale” for sale as in, “You give me $10,000 and you take the girl forever.”

Plan Disrupted

This was more than enough to have the government support a rescue operation. A date was set with the national police and O.U.R. started mobilizing the rescue team. Unfortunately, the O.U.R. team returned to the country only to discover that not all of the preliminary work had been completed. “They had not done the lead work ahead of time. They had not gotten the court orders, they hadn’t gotten the judicial orders, they hadn’t gotten judge approval for us to actually move forward,” said the team leader.

Operation Underground Railroad is not a vigilante group and will not move forward without everything in place. “We do everything we can to lay the groundwork ahead of time and to prepare, but when we get down there we’re in their hands, ultimately, we’re in the hands of the foreign government,” the team leader explained. In this case, the foreign government told them to return in two weeks and they would have all the paperwork completed and be ready for the rescue and arrests.

New Plans

It was Friday. O.U.R. had been expecting more team members to arrive the next day to help with the rescue. Now everything had changed and the rescue team was put on hold. Stuck with no way to leave the island until Sunday, the team leader asked the host government, “Can we at least meet with the traffickers to talk about maybe giving them some money, seeing the pictures, seeing the actual girls, and can we introduce one of your undercover operatives as our taxi driver or as our middleman, something where when we leave, the traffickers will trust that this trusted local is with us?” That way the traffickers can continue to deal directly with the local, thinking he is just some fixer/middleman/gofer, when really he’s a federal police officer. The national police gave the green light and the plan was set for the next day.

A Fourth Suspected Trafficker

Then plans took a sharp turn – again. A fourth suspected trafficker, a female, reached out to one of O.U.R.’s undercover operatives. “Because of human nature and greed and rumors, the word started spreading around this town on this Caribbean island that there were Americans looking for a good time,” said the team leader. The woman said she could provide five young girls – one of them a virgin.

O.U.R. took this information to the government, hoping to add her to the other three suspected traffickers that they anticipated arresting in two weeks. Unfortunately, with the limited resources of the government they told them, “We aren’t able to add her now. We think we’re at a maximum with the number of kids that we are planning on saving from the three networks. We think that’s going to be the limit of what we can take.”

There is nothing more disheartening than knowing kids are being trafficked and not being able to do anything about it. The national police did, however, agree to let O.U.R.’s undercover team set up a meeting with her and verify that she did, in fact, have children to sell.

The Meeting

It’s Saturday morning. The meeting is set for noon at a local restaurant. O.U.R. flies in the head negotiator. He wants to meet in a less public place but the potential trafficker assures him she will come by herself and then, “I’ll take you back to my house where we can meet with the kids.”

“Matt” plays the role of the rich guy from the U.S. “My security was there, my undercover operatives. They have been on the island working as the middlemen. So I fly in from the U.S. I have not been seen on the island. I am a new face. And I brought a couple guys as my bodyguards.”

 

Making The Deal
The Meeting

“So we show up to the restaurant and our undercover operatives go in to find the woman. Meanwhile, I stay in the car with my bodyguards. Well, then my undercover operative comes back five minutes later and says, ‘the suspected trafficker is in the restaurant and she brought the girls with her.’” At this point a decision needs to be made. Leave and avoid a public scene or go meet with her and see where it leads. Matt chooses the latter.

“We go in and sure enough, there are very young girls seated around a table, five of them – very scared girls. I think, ‘this is the real deal here, this is true.’ So we sit down and we immediately buy the girls some lemonade, some orange juice, some water and tell them to open up the menu and they can have whatever they want. “

“The woman begins to explain to us where she had gotten these girls. She said she was from a poor, poor town outside of this tourist area about 15-20 miles away, very uneducated. She tricked the parents of these five girls saying that she was just going to take them into town to buy some food, look around, take them to a movie maybe.”

“She’s explaining this to us and then we start talking about the prices and she says, ‘Well, each of these girls is very young.’ She gave us the ages: 14, 15, 16, and 17. And she said that the youngest one, the 14-year-old, was a virgin, and she was more expensive. She would be $500. But, the other girls were not virgins but had only been in this, so to speak, for just a month or two, so they’re almost virgins and they were going to be about $300 each.”

It’s Complicated

Everything was going just as expected for an undercover sting. The only problem was the government had not given them permission to move forward. There is no police backup. There is no one to make an arrest. There is no one to take care of the girls. Matt had gone in looking for information and got a whole lot more than he’d bargained for. Now what?

Matt describes the scene. “I’m focused on her. My bodyguards are around talking to the girls. At one point I then take a half turn and just survey the environment, make sure everything is good and I notice that our presence is drawing a lot of attention. That it looks really, really bad. That you have essentially five, six big, white guys, Americans, talking with young women, young girls from this country, ethnically, local girls.”

“People were starting to whisper and look, including a couple who I see take out their cell phones and begin taking pictures. So I immediately said, ‘You know what—this isn’t good, we need to get out of here.’ So I whipped out a stack of local currency, put it on the table and said, ‘Ladies, eat whatever you want. Finish your drinks.” I told the waitress, “This covers the bill.” Then I took out some money and gave it to the trafficker so I could hook her greed, and then I said, ‘Thank you so much, we’ll be in touch.’ And we got out of there right away.”

Operation Underground Railroad trains its operatives to “always go with your gut sense.” In Matt’s case, it just didn’t feel right. He could sense that things were getting out of control and that they needed to get out of there right away and they did. It was the right decision.

They later learned from their connections with one of the other traffickers, who may have had ties with the local police, that within 10 minutes after they left, the local police came into the restaurant, arrested the woman and took the kids in for questioning. Since O.U.R. was working with the national police, the local police would not have known they were working undercover. Had they been arrested as well, they would have had to blow their cover in order to get out of jail.

As it played out, this incident strengthened their undercover relationship with the other potential traffickers. All the operatives maintained their cover as western sex tourists and they managed to have the suspected woman trafficker arrested and the five girls rescued. Actually, the arrest and rescue can be largely attributed to the concerned people in the restaurant who were brave enough to get involved and call the police.

If everything had gone according to plan, this never would have happened, because the national police had determined they would not arrest this trafficker due to limited resources.

However, things got very tense for the O.U.R. jump team. Following the arrest, the local police began looking for Matt and his bodyguards. “This was probably the most scared I’ve been on any of our operations thus far,” Matt said. “We monitored the situation and figured out we were safe staying at our hotel. We kept the federal police officer with us at all times, just in case anything happened.”

The Aftermath

As scheduled, Sunday morning O.U.R.’s jump team got on the plane headed for home. Following Saturday’s incident, Matt had arranged for O.U.R.’s aftercare partner to take care of the five girls that had been taken in for questioning. They were later returned to their parents who were, indeed, unaware that their children were being trafficked. Though traumatized, the girls, as well as their parents, are now a little wiser about the world and the evil that goes on in it and can take additional precautions to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

The woman was interrogated and taken to jail for a minimum of one year pending her trial. A number of witnesses at the restaurant heard what was going on and can testify so she won’t be doing this again.

As far as the three suspected trafficking networks are concerned that were identified earlier, they are being watched and will be taken down at a later date. No one will escape. And the children will be rescued and receive the care they need. It is only the beginning on the Caribbean island and Operation Underground Railroad will be right there to ensure more children are not exploited.

Written by: Cheryl L. Karr

 

Sex Trafficking In The Modeling Industry

Sex Trafficking In The Modeling Industry

 

By Monique Derr –

Her mind raced as the modeling agent urged her to lift her dress higher. She was alone in the room. It did not feel right, but she wanted so badly to make a good impression and get the photo shoot job. Perhaps she was just being too cowardly? Maybe this was how it was supposed to work? “Higher,” he said, as he circled her with his camera. Finally, heart racing, she dropped her dress and asked why it was necessary to show so much skin. “That will be all,” he said, and he left.

She did not get the job. It was not until years later that she learned her gut feeling had been right, that she had been wrongfully pressured, and that the man posing as a modeling agent was, in fact, a predator who was later sentenced to jail time for exploiting young girls with big dreams.

Sex traffickers find ways to target and deceive vulnerable girls in many ways, and aspiring models have become a major focus for some of these predators. “Sex sells,” says world fashion mogul Stacy Eastman. “It is rampant and selling everywhere.”

As an impressionable young man, Eastman studied the fashion industry with some of the best and brightest. “I went to Milan, Paris, and London as an intern, and was head hunted by the most powerful man in fashion, John Casablanca,” Eastman said.

After 10 years with Elite Model Management, Eastman decided to form his own management company and Pulse Management was born. Unaware of modern day slavery in the industry he had reached great success in, he initially sought to put his experience and energy into a model management company that ethically cared for the talent they represented. “I set out to bring morals and standards to the entertainment industry through schooling, healthy eating habits and sports, and really the betterment of the person.”

Eastman then became a husband and father, and was introduced to the reality of sex trafficking through the fictional movie Taken, and he became enthralled with learning more.

“Having spent my life in the entertainment industry, I’ve seen a lot of people sell out and it disturbed me greatly. So I started researching to see if people posed as fashion moguls for this same purpose. Right then, I knew I had to stand and make even more of a difference,” he stated.

Eastman came across Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.), and started digging and learning all he could. “I bought tons of products in support and became, as they say, an abolitionist,” Eastman said. He has since found valuable ways to support O.U.R. and fight sex trafficking within the fashion industry and has played an active role in bringing awareness to the issue.

Pulse Management uses social media and their personal blog as a platform to educate their followers on how traffickers prey on models. They are able to spread the messaging and warning to millions of people through their clients and connections.

Public Relations and Online Media Director Lisa Hong Ballstaedt explained, “We have many followers who want to be models; they could easily be preyed upon because they want it… We want to be a voice of awareness for them.”

On a more personal level, Eastman is able to create dialogue with strangers who ask about the O.U.R. dog tags around his neck, which “I have never taken off,” he noted.

Stacy Eastmand being interviewed at the movie premier
Stacy Eastman being interviewed at the movie premier

Pulse Management has also hosted screenings of the movie, The Abolitionists, and works tirelessly to ensure the safety of the models they represent. Ballstaedt stated, “We protect our models…sex should never be a factor in a modeling photo shoot…we try to be a light in [what can be] a dark industry.”

For those who are pursuing a career in modeling, Eastman has some pieces of advice to ensure safety and legitimacy in potential opportunities:

  • Research the agencies. Check to see if they have a legitimate track record with the actual companies, designers, magazines, and so forth, that they claim they work with.
  • Confirm that they have strong character references from actual models and their parents who they say they manage.
  • The “agency” should never make or force you to wear something that is not age appropriate and/or shoot sexually explicit material.
  • Make sure that parents are always welcome to travel with their daughter, no matter the model’s age.
  • Never pay for “modeling schools.” There are really only three USA markets: NYC, which is number one in the world, Miami, and LA. Travel is mandatory.

O.U.R., unfortunately, has seen many modeling schools used as a cover up for traffickers to prey on the innocent. Unsuspecting parents are lured by promises of a successful modeling career for their children, only to never see then again.

In O.U.R.’s Operation Triple Take, potential sex victims were rescued from suspected traffickers who used former Colombian beauty queen Kelly Johana to entice them. You can read that story here. 

“We spend thousands of unpaid hours ensuring our clients are globally protected with their parents and their futures in mind” said Eastman. Anything less should be a red flag.

Pulse Management demonstrates well the value of contributing to the fight against sex trafficking by means of personal talents and influence. “I adore my wife and two girls, let alone ALL my clients who happen to be beautiful, smart, and athletic girls. I could not bear to see this (trafficking) happen and their innocence be destroyed. So I’ve tried to do all I can and will continue, period!” Eastman exclaimed.

It is important to recognize that any person or organization, with any background, is in a position to join this fight. There are many opportunities to fight sex trafficking, and everyone has a role they can play to stop it.

O.U.R. is grateful for the example Pulse Management has set, and for the work they do to protect young girls with big hopes and dreams. Their work can inspire others to take action against sex trafficking as well. Everyone has something to contribute in this fight.

Loftii Is Supporting O.U.R. and You Can Too!

Loftii Is Supporting O.U.R. and You Can Too!

Help O.U.R. earn $25,000 – it costs you nothing!

So many of our great supporters have wondered how else they can support our cause. We’ve got great news: now, you can actively make a difference and support Operation Underground Railroad in your every day life in a new way. We’re thrilled to announce our new partnership with Loftii.

When you shop using Loftii, up to 5% of your online purchases will be donated to Operation Underground Railroad. It is free for you and we get a donation every time you make a purchase. Not only that, it is super easy. We’ve been using and loving it for a couple months now and have been able to purchase some new surveillance equipment with the donations we’ve generated. With back-to-school around the corner, you can feel good knowing that each online purchase you make is helping rescue a child.

Additionally, during the month of July, Loftii will donate an additional $5 per person who signs up – on top of the retailer donation. Our goal is to get 5,000 people to sign up this month for a $25,000 donation – help us by signing up today. Link

 

CrossFit O.U.R. 2016

CrossFit O.U.R. 2016

 

 

If you live in Utah, there’s a great and easy way for you to help support Operation Underground Railroad. Come work out with O.U.R. jump team members at CrossFit O.U.R. in Draper, Utah. Coach Drew Rykert will get you in shape in no time at all, and who knows, maybe you’ll even get to go on a rescue mission.

O.U.R. founder and CEO Tim Ballard personally chose Rykert to run the CrossFit O.U.R. gym due to his experience and commitment to O.U.R. Rykert was already running his own CrossFit affiliate where Ballard and other jump team members were previously working out. Soon both Rykert and his wife became jump team members and participated in several rescue missions.

“CrossFit O.U.R. is for everyone, says Rykert. “Since opening our doors, we’ve had all walks of life come through and that is just what we wanted. This has helped us grow organically and develop a culture where everyone knows your name.”

“Couples continue to be a strong addition and we have started an O.U.R. CrossFit KIDS/TEENS program on Mondays and Wednesdays at 4 pm. We also offer KID CARE at 9:30 am and YOGA at 7 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays and 7am on Saturdays. There is a FREE introductory session every Thursday at 6 am and 6 pm.

Many generous partners are supporting the O.U.R. gym as a means of consistent revenue including WODOmation, Bam Bams BBQ, HYLETE and Kill Cliff and we are extremely grateful to them.

CrossFit O.U.R.
CrossFit O.U.R. Gym

The 8,000 square feet gym was built with donations from private donors and includes a 70 foot Pull Up Rig, Olympic lifting equipment and the best coaches that are trained and certified.

CrossFit O.U.R. is a for-profit gym that started up last September with the intent of helping cover O.U.R.’s administrative costs. With over 100 members and climbing, it’s doing just that. “This way money that comes into Operation Underground Railroad for rescues missions can go directly to saving kids,” said O.U.R. COO Jerry Gowen. The ultimate goal for gym enrollment is 300 members.

Come get in shape and support the organization that rescues children from sex traffickers. CrossFit O.U.R. is located at 13648 S. 200 W. in Draper, Utah. For more information go to our website: CROSSFITOUR.COM

Written by: Cheryl L. Karr

 

 

12-Year-Old’s Best Gift Of ALL

12-Year-Old’s Best Gift Of ALL

 

By Caleb Larkin –

Twelve-year-old Rocco Cooper, from Dallas, in an ultimate show of selflessness, gave up what most boys his age think about more than anything else: birthday presents.

Cooper decided that for his twelfth birthday party on May 14th, 2016, instead of asking for presents, he would ask his friends to come with a receipt for their donation to Operation Underground Railroad. He was ecstatic at the positive response in both amount given, and possibly more important, how everyone got involved.

“I already have so much in my life and a lot of kids don’t have what I have,” Cooper said. “I knew that something simple, like giving up birthday presents, is a small sacrifice, but can hopefully make an impact.”

At twelve, Rocco has been interested in soccer, football, golf, piano and violin, as well as involved in his local boy scout unit, where he has many opportunities to be an example to those around him.

The Cooper family found out about Operation Underground Railroad’s mission through listening to the Glenn Beck radio show when O.U.R.’s founder and CEO, Tim Ballard, told of the horrors of modern day slavery.

“He’s my oldest son, and it is a sensitive topic,” Rocco’s mother Clairissa Cooper explained. “So it’s hard to know what you want to share with your kids. I felt my son was mature enough that he could understand what was going on.” She felt the mission held enough importance that her child could also make a difference. “It’s one of those organizations that is worth getting involved with,” Cooper said.

Clairissa did see the $165 donation from the boys as significant, but likely surpassing the monetary value, her son spread awareness of O.U.R.’s important mission.

“The reaction was really positive. A lot of the parents were really surprised, but excited to learn about the organization,” Clairissa said. “I would even suspect they donated more than they would have spent on an actual gift.”

Rocco first got involved after his mother received the Abraham Lincoln “Abolitionist” T-shirt as a result of signing up for the $5-a-month Abolitionist program. “I ordered the wrong size and then had the opportunity to explain to Rocco what the organization was about because it fit my son perfectly,” Clairissa said.

Rocco with Syblings
Rocco (C) with Siblings

Rocco then wore the shirt to school when his sixth grade class had a discussion about slavery. He introduced the organization and how slavery exists today and in what form. From then on he knew he really wanted to help these kids.

The Coopers live in an affluent part of Texas. Clairissa readily realizes that her children, Rocco, 12, and his two younger siblings ages ten and six, are surrounded by peers who have an abundance.

“It is a priority for me to help my children recognize the blessings in their lives and also how to use those blessings to help and serve others. I want them to see beyond comic book heroes and see what true life American heroes are doing in the name of O.U.R. rescue,” Clairissa explained. “This birthday experience expanded not only my son’s perspective on life, but that of his friends and their families as well. Sharing the stories of O.U.R. rescue with our children will spread hope and awareness, and raise a generation of men and women who can make this world a better place.”

Her son Rocco agrees, and feels like many more can get involved, even children just like him. “You can give up a Christmas present, do side jobs, or just give from your allowance,” he suggested as ways to help donate to O.U.R.

His purpose and selflessness is catching on already. “One kid came up and said what I could earn from presents to others, so he did it too,” Rocco said.

Rocco feels this birthday is not one he’s likely to forget. “It was a very positive experience, here we are still talking about it, even though it was a month ago. It left a lasting impression on me,” he said.

“It really wasn’t a sacrifice either. I was just happy to do it,” Rocco further confirmed.

Cooking Up A New Life – “Alicia’s Story”

Cooking Up A New Life – “Alicia’s Story”

 

This is a story about “Alicia,” a victim of child trafficking rescued by O.U.R. in a Latin American country in early 2015. Currently on her long road to recovery, she is facing the ups and downs of psychological challenges common to trafficking survivors who had to endure months or years of rape and other physical and emotional abuse. Many of these survivors are unable to regain the life that God surely intended for them, but thanks to generous O.U.R. donors, Alicia just might be one who is able to overcome her ordeal, despite the steep hill she is facing.

Imagine if you were abandoned by your parents at the age of six years old because they chose to move to the United States illegally in search of a better life for themselves. Imagine further if your mother and father chose never to return for you, and instead maintained contact only through a brief phone call every two weeks. Such was the childhood and adolescence that Alicia endured. Alicia was raised by her grandmother in a Latin American beach town popular with Americans and other western tourists.

Grandma was a loving and caring woman, but at her advanced age she was not always able to keep tabs on her 16-year-old granddaughter. Alicia was a susceptible target to cunning human traffickers who lurked in her town, looking for vulnerable and impressionable young girls upon whom to prey and lure into the commercial sex industry. Alicia was forced to endure many months of sexual exploitation before an O.U.R. jump team rescued her, in a daring operation that also resulted in the liberation of a 19-year-old girl and the arrest of three traffickers. O.U.R. officials immediately got Alicia into a vetted aftercare center in the country’s capital city, and generous donations from O.U.R. supporters provided a monthly stipend that covered her aftercare.

Things went well in the initial months of Alicia’s recovery, and she even felt secure enough to share with federal authorities information and intelligence on other trafficking networks that were abusing young girls in her town. This information led law enforcement to conduct a follow-up rescue that saved 12 girls and arrested six suspected traffickers. However, as is the case with so many survivors of the horror of human trafficking, Alicia’s emotions and mental state cratered after about six months in recovery.

In late 2015 her struggle increased with her being able to interact with the shelter staff and her fellow survivors. Due to her not being able to continue to progress the staff felt obligated to move her to another aftercare home. Under the guidance of her counselor, she was taken about a 90-minute drive to the southeast of the capital city. Although Alicia was moved to a first-rate facility with a loving and caring staff, her initial weeks there were incredibly difficult. Alicia expressed her desire to leave the shelter and return to her hometown, despite the high probability that she would be re-trafficked or even killed by local organized crime groups.

O.U.R. rescue and aftercare officials had been closely tracking Alicia’s struggles. Upon learning of her struggle to continue working through her trauma, we dispatched a delegation to travel to her new shelter and meet Alicia face-to-face to see what might be done to keep her in the program and on the path to recovery. After multiple conversations with Alicia and encouragement to dream and consider what she would like to do with her life, she shared that she would love to become a chef. In consultation with the shelter staff, O.U.R. was able to fund through our generous donors to pay for weekly cooking classes not only for Alicia, but also for some of her fellow survivors.

O.U.R. Hires Chef
O.U.R. Hires Chef

The shelter hired a prominent female chef in the region—who agreed to provide her services at a greatly reduced cost—and arranged for the donation of all cooking ingredients. The chef herself told the girls that she had come from a poor background, but through hard work and commitment she had been able to rise to the top of her profession. She told each of her cooking students that they could become anything they wanted to be, but they first needed to be willing to work hard and stay committed.

After just a few months in the cooking class, the shelter staff reports that Alicia has made a complete turnaround and appears to have a new lease on life. She has rapidly distinguished herself as the top student in the class, but even more importantly, has become a model citizen in the aftercare home.

Alicia is now a positive and productive influence on both the staff and her fellow survivors. We visited again in mid-June to check on her, and are so proud of the progress she is making. All of us continue to pray for her full recovery. We hope you enjoy these pictures of the positive changes being made in the life of this precious trafficking survivor, changes made possible through generous donations to O.U.R. Without you, none of this would be possible. Thank you so very much!

Written by: Cheryl L. Karr

 

After The Abolitionists Movie Premier

After The Abolitionists Movie Premier

 

Silence is not always golden. In fact, many injustices continue today because those who would fight against them are not aware they even exist. Such is the case with child sex trafficking and slavery – until now.

The feature-length documentary The Abolitionists premiered in theaters nation-wide May 16th, enlightening audiences who previously were blissfully unaware of this dark side of the world.

They now know that child sex slavery is one of the biggest plagues of our day and is growing by the minute. Sweet, innocent children, are kidnapped, sold, or tricked into becoming sex slaves and movie stars of pornographic videos. It is real. It is happening. And it needs to be stopped.

The Abolitionists is the story about a former CIA officer and HSI agent, Tim Ballard, who unwillingly became exposed to this dark side of humanity during his 12 years with the government.

It only took one rescue for Ballard to realize these children needed saving. Since then he has left government service and begun his own non-profit organization, Operation Underground Railroad, to rescue these children.

Movie theaters were sold out across the country for the premier. Some were bought by modern-day abolitionists who are doing what they can to help rescue these children. Other theaters, simply sold individual tickets. The Larry H. Miller Theaters donated all proceeds of the movie to O.U.R. for the rescuing of children – a very generous gift.

Current estimates put viewers at around 35,000 for the May 16th event. Exact figures are still coming in. Reactions have been inspiring. People have been shocked, saddened and amazed at what is happening to children around the world. Here are just a few of the comments from viewers:

“When I saw the movie The Abolitionists, I was heartbroken at just how many innocent children are being forced to be trafficked and forced to be sex slaves.” William Billiam

“Well done. Didn’t like the subject matter, but that’s why it made an impact. God bless this film and the light it is shining on human trafficking.” Helen Matter

“Very inspirational and informative for everyone. We really need to work together to stop human trafficking.” Melissa Peters

“As dark as the subject matter is, I love the hope and light that are fighting the darkness!” Jenn Foote

A movement has begun. Since the premier of the film on May 16th, volunteers are signing up with O.U.R. in record numbers to help rescue these children.

“It has been amazing to see the response of people after they have seen the film. They are motivated and ready to do all they can to put an end to this atrocity,” said O.U.R.’s National Volunteer Coordinator Jani Dix. “People are willing to give their time and talents and truly believe they need to be part of this solution. There is a lot of darkness in this world and you see that in the film, but there is also so much light and the O.U.R. volunteers are a testament of that.”

Since the premier of the film, over 550 volunteers have signed up to help O.U.R. fight this plague, bringing together an army of 1300 worldwide to rescue these children. And there is something everyone can do.

You don’t need to donate money to help, although that is a great way and very much needed. Many volunteers offer their talents to the cause. Some are helping by organizing events, some are writing articles or giving presentations that spread the word. We encourage you to help in whatever way you can, because once you know this is going on, it is very difficult to do nothing.

Helen Keller once said, “I am only one but still I am one. I cannot do everything but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”

Tim Ballard saw something wrong and is doing what he can to right it. “My goal is to eradicate this heinous crime all around the world. That may take some time, but I believe we can do it.”

What will you do to help? Visit our website at ourrescue.org to discover the many ways you can make a difference.

If you have not been able to see the movie, The Abolitionists yet, you can request it to play at your local theater by inquiring at  http://theabolitionistsmovie.com/contact/.

Planting Seeds of Hope

Planting Seeds of Hope

 

“Lani” looked so young when she was rescued by Operation Underground Railroad that law enforcement was sure she was a minor. Her protests to the contrary were useless. Unless she could provide solid evidence that she was 18 years old, she would need to meet with the social workers at the aftercare shelter.

O.U.R.’s mission is to rescue children who are being trafficked for sex by pimps and pedophiles, and help them in their recovery. Often, in that net, we rescue those who are not considered children. They may be 18 years old or 25 or more. Most likely they were started as child prostitutes by traffickers and now know no other way of life. But, because they are no longer minors, they are free to leave the aftercare that O.U.R.provides all minors following a rescue.

Lani called for someone to bring her ID to prove she was an adult, but while waiting, she learned that she had options. She did not have to live this type of life any more. For three days the social workers helped her to understand that there is loving support for people caught in her situation. Although tempted by the thought of freedom, the strong connection she had to her pimp/boyfriend drew her back to him once her ID arrived and she could prove she was eighteen.

It is heart breaking to see someone who is caught in the jaws of hell, wanting to be free, yet fearing what the unknown offers. In Lani’s case, O.U.R.’s local aftercare partners continued to check on her, letting her know there is still help should she choose it.

Eventually, she and her pimp moved away. Lani soon became pregnant with her pimp’s baby. Fear engulfed her as she realized this baby’s future was in the hands of her pimp. She did not want her baby to live the kind of hell she was living. Yet, she knew there was a high probability that this child would one day become a prostitute if she stayed with this man. What could she do?

Secretly, she slipped away from the village in search of the social worker who had helped her following the O.U.R. rescue. She found her in the city and in desperation asked if the ‘other options’ were still available to her, telling her how she did not want her baby to grow up being trafficked by this man as she had been.

It takes a lot of strength for a young woman to leave a controlling pimp/trafficker and seek help. He had assured her many times, “You will starve in the streets. I will kill you if you leave.” But, leave she did, into the loving arms of O.U.R.’s aftercare partners.

Today, Lani is living with her newborn in freedom at a home for single mothers, receiving vocational training and emotional counseling as she dreams about the future of her life and that of her child.

This is the type of outcome O.U.R. hopes for all the children and adults we rescue. Collaboration with local officials and local aftercare support is pivotal in making this happen and O.U.R. has experts working hard daily to create these partnerships.

Adults are not treated as criminals and are not held against their will, but we do try to plant the seeds of hope and ‘other options’ that are available to them so that when they are ready, as in the case of Lani, they will seek us out.

That time may not be today. It may not be six months from today. But, once they know there is a better way, a safer way, that thought will begin to grow. And that thought may, one day, turn to action. And when that happens, we will be there for them.

We at O.U.R. believe we can make a difference in this most important step. Believe with us and join the O.U.R. team in building hope and freedom from exploitation. There are a number of ways you can do this from becoming a recurring donor (an abolitionist), to volunteering, to creating a fundraising campaign of your own. Visit ourrescue.org on how to get started.

Written by: Cheryl L. Karr

 

 

 

 

 

Becoming A Global Force For Good: The Creation of CET-COE

Becoming A Global Force For Good: The Creation of CET-COE

CET-COE – Becoming A Global Force For Good

Child Exploitation Targeting Center of Excellence

By Caleb Larkin

Operation Underground Railroad is taking a great leap forward in the fight against child sex slavery and expanding its influence and outreach with its first Child Exploitation Targeting Center of Excellence (CET-COE) http://ourrescue.or/technology.

The center opened June 8th in Charlotte, North Carolina as a start to establishing a technological foothold in various parts of the world. This new center shows the progress O.U.R. is making in the fight against sex trafficking.

The main purpose of this and future CET-COE locations is to provide law enforcement with the vital targeting and intelligence analysis capabilities needed to fight the exploitation of children. An added bonus is having central locations where our jump teams can be working with the intelligence and targeting teams along side law enforcement.

O.U.R. partnered with Delitor Inc, and the University of North Carolina to work with the many organizations, government and non-governmental organizations alike (NGOs) to develop new software to identify victims and perpetrators.

O.U.R.’s Law Enforcement Services Director, Dale, referred to the new opening of CET-COE as a successful collaboration. “I was very pleased with the support from the local community and especially our law enforcement partners who were very eager to have more tools at their fingertips in the fight to end child sex slavery.”

The center is an essential step forward for O.U.R.’s goal to establish a real physical presence domestically and abroad. “The purpose of this CET-COE is like a fusion meeting or enforcement center,” Dale explained.

The center in North Carolina and future ones like it are designed to aid law enforcement in bringing about the end of child exploitation in every form by leveraging information from known pedophiles in order to find victims and their perpetrators.

“Everyone felt like focusing these expansions on technology was the best way to have an effect on a global level,” Dale emphasized. As technology advances, O.U.R. understands that everyone and everything uses technology to further their purposes today, including human traffickers. The centers will help O.U.R. stay ahead of criminals by using software to help track and identify trends and threats throughout the world.

“As nice as it would be to have a jump team in every city, it’s just not feasible. But having this technology everywhere is,” Dale said. “Getting the software to identify child traffickers, that is something we can accomplish and are now working towards it.”

O.U.R.’s founder and CEO, Tim Ballard, has always had a vision to have an O.U.R. office in key locations to quicken response times and have closer interactions with in-country law enforcement. “We’re extremely thrilled to be rolling out O.U.R.’s Center of Excellence on the UNC – Charlotte campus,” Ballard said.

“Technology and the internet is what enables so much of the sex trafficking that occurs in the United States and around the world, but with the right tools, we can use our own technology to combat these criminals who prey on our children and the world’s most vulnerable who fall victim to trafficking and pornography.”

The facilities will allow O.U.R. to have our own people at each CET-COE location, instead of having to plan out operations in the U.S. and then transfer people and equipment to the mission location.

“We think of it like this: The U.S. has headquarters in D.C., but we have embassies in other countries. So this is like an O.U.R. embassy where we have headquarters at these different facilities,” Dale said. “We plan to build targeting packages, develop research in select locations and work with local law enforcement in these areas.”

The CET-COE project has met several challenges along the way – the first being funding. “It’s an expensive project, especially to get the talent and experience needed to run these centers,” Dale explained. “We need people who are extremely invested and it’s harder to get people in place with the expertise needed while taking a pay cut.”

Another difficult challenge came in selecting the ideal location for the site. “We have to balance proximity to law enforcement for easier access and keeping the center isolated enough to keep the data protected, “ Dale explained.

Despite these ongoing challenges, Dale sees the establishment of the center as a “huge step toward becoming a global organization and extending O.U.R.’s reach.” He expects the future expansions to be equally significant. “We have been trying to establish ourselves as a global organization. This will actually establish a footprint in multiple countries across the globe,” said Dale.

O.U.R. plans to continue to open these centers to increase their global reach, influence and presence in an abolitionist movement. The next CET-COE facilities are planned to open in late summer and fall of this year.

“We are choosing certain areas and locations to expand to first, but eventually we would like a CET-COE in every part of the world,” Dale said. “This is a huge sign of success for O.U.R. It signifies we are prepared to expand and combat slavery in all corners of the globe.”