“A lot of people have a hard time comprehending this,” author, activist and former CIA operative Timothy Ballard said, “but [human trafficking] is the fastest growing criminal network in the world. Close to two million children are enslaved right now, thousands are sold every year. The lucky ones become labor slaves, the unlucky ones end up in brothels— and that’s just the children. Men and women are enslaved too, but most of us just go about our lives and have no idea. The exact number of victims has been debated, but recent research indicates that each year in America over 100,000 children are exploited in our own cities and neighborhoods; at strip clubs, on web sites and in homes.”
Ballard began his career at the Central Intelligence Agency working on cases dealing with terrorism and Latin America. Following that, he spent over a decade as a special agent at 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. However, Ballard said he became increasingly frustrated with the many roadblocks he kept encountering on the job. “It was stifling,” he said. “The bureaucracy, the crazy jurisdiction policies and the apathy—so much of it served to drag out the process of rescuing kids that, by the time everyone touched the ball and we were cleared to go in, the bad guys were already gone.”
Upon vacating his position as a government employee, Ballard founded Operation Underground Railroad (OUR) on behalf of the Child Rescue Association of North America, a national non-profit organization that works to educate the community about the issue and provide funding for organizations like OUR that are dedicated to identifying and dismantling illegal networks that deal in the trafficking of minors.
“Essentially, I’m doing the exact same thing I did as a government agent, but in the private sector,” he said. “And, after just about a month and a half in business, we’ve already rescued 35 kids. That would have taken me at least a couple of years to pull off at the government level, and that’s mostly due to jurisdiction limitations. Even if the government was doing everything it should, there just is no jurisdiction that would allow the U.S. government to intervene in some nations, and those are usually the ones where the most children are being hurt.” The dismantling operations, Ballard said, are always conducted with both the knowledge and cooperation of the involved country’s local government and law enforcement authorities.
“Slavery is alive and well in the world, and this is slavery in its worst form. We congratulate ourselves today because we think it’s something we’ve already gotten rid of, but that unfortunately couldn’t be further from the truth. That’s why it’s so important that the people who do know what’s going on step up and do something about it.”
Learn more at Victoria Osborne’s The Dalles Chronicle article: Long night’s end.