If you want to read one of the most inspiring and well-written books possible, get Slave Stealers: True Accounts of Slave Rescues Then and Now.
Meanwhile, enjoy this exclusive interview with the book’s author, Tim Ballard. He’s the founder and CEO of Operation Underground Railroad, an organization that works internationally to stop child trafficking.
Hugs to all of you,
Interview with Tim Ballard
Editor: You specialize in addressing the scourge of child trafficking. Give us a sense of how big it is.
Ballard: Six million children are being victimized by trafficking, and it’s the fastest growing crime in the world. It’s also the third-largest source of revenue for criminals, after the arms trade and drugs. Criminals want children whether for prostitution, pornography, slave labor, or organ-harvesting.
The income from human trafficking is so big that every year it generates enough money to buy every Starbucks franchise in the world, every National Basketball Association team in the nation, and every Target store across the globe.
Editor: What do you say to people like me who want to help but are almost too horrified to act?
Ballard: One of the problems with communicating about this, is decent people can’t wrap their heads around something so evil. I know how you and they feel because at first, I didn’t want to get involved either.
Here’s what happened to me. About a decade ago I was working for the Department of Homeland Security, and one day my boss said he wanted me to think about helping start a child crimes unit.
I was intending to tell him, “No!” I came home that night and told my wife about what my boss had wanted, and then I told her, “Child crimes are so heinous, so grotesque. We can’t bring this kind of darkness into our home. And besides, getting into something like this will mess with my head, and I don’t want this to affect our children.”
Neither of us slept that night. Then the next morning, both of realized that the extreme darkness of child trafficking was the very reason we should do it. We both saw that with millions of children being thrust into hell, we could endure a little pain to do something about such enormous pain
So now I say to people who are hesitant, “Look at the children in your life. Then think of the children who are in dark places and realize that you can do something to take them out of hell. Your support can mean helping them recover and have a normal life. You can also be a part of preventing this evil.”
Editor: What can we do to prevent it?
Ballard: I take inspiration from history. What put an end to 400 years of legalized slavery in the United States was citizens getting together and shining a light on it. Harriet Beecher Stowe was one of them. Let’s have a similar movement where everyone stands up and says, “This must stop!”
Editor: What’s standing in the way?
Ballard: It’s lack of awareness. Too often the traffickers can act with impunity because people don’t know what they’re up to. We’ve had 22 sting and rescue operations so far, and in almost every country, we were the first anti-trafficking operation.
Editor: Talk about what a trafficking ring is like.
Ballard: They’re usually small with maybe five people each controlling ten or 15 kids. The rings don’t get very large because they don’t want to attract the attention of the drug cartels. Cartel members hate child traffickers and several times cartel members gave us tips that helped us break up a ring.
Editor: How do traffickers get their victims?
Ballard: Members of trafficking rings aren’t like what you see in Hollywood, where they kidnap someone from their home. It’s much easier to go into a poor area where law enforcement is scant.
For example, a trafficker might visit an impoverished village and see a pretty little girl there. He’ll seek out her parents, and pretending to be a businessman, he tells the parents, “My wife and I want your daughter to be the nanny for our children. We’ll pay you $500 a week.”
The $500 is a fortune to the parents, and seeing how nicely-dressed he is, they believe him. The “businessman” then leaves with their daughter and neither are ever heard from again.
One particularly monstrous case was Kelly Suarez, a beauty queen who ran a modeling agency in Colombia. She’d tell the parents of pretty young girls, “I’m giving your daughter a scholarship for my modeling agency.”
The parents were delighted. She led them to think, “My daughter is going to be rich and famous!”
Instead, Suarez would traffic the girls to rich people from North America. She’d tell the girls, “If you tell what’s going on, your family will be killed!” None of the little girls told their parents what was happening to them.
Editor: How do we stop this monstrousness? What is your long-term strategy?
Ballard: Right now, in too many countries, traffickers can exploit children, and nothing happens to them. We want to change that. We want to prosecute, prosecute, prosecute until we make trafficking so difficult that operations will shrivel up and die.
Editor: Meanwhile, what are you most proud of?
Ballard: O.U.R. that is, Operation Underground Railroad has put more than 1100 traffickers in jail. Since each one of those traffickers would probably traffic an additional 100 children, that means more than 100,000 children who won’t be hurt.
Editor: If someone wants to help, what can they do?
Ballard: Come to https://ourrescue.org/join-the-fight for ways to get involved and have an impact.
By Mitzi Perdue