He’s been called a modern-day abolitionist for his efforts to set children free from sex slavery around the world. But Tim Ballard is also a Quixote-like figure whose life mission is to defend the helpless and destroy the wicked.
His nonprofit foundation, Operation Underground Railroad, has rescued more than 750 child sex slaves since its creation in December 2013 — an impressive feat, but a drop in the bucket considering that an estimated 2 million children live in slavery worldwide.
It’s not the life he would have chosen. In fact, much of what he does is distasteful to him. Formerly employed by Homeland Security, the Brigham Young University graduate started down this career path when asked to help start a child crimes unit.
“I thought, ‘There’s no way I can do that!’” recalls Ballard. “After talking with my wife and praying — a lot, I decided I had to. There are too many children trapped in this who don’t have a voice, and I want to help them.”
Fighting Crime: No Easy Feat
Ballard and his partners/operatives travel the world posing as businessmen looking to hire sex slaves. Once a deal is agreed upon, they free the slaves and lock up the perps — if all goes well.
“It’s tough to sit across the table from these traffickers, mostly because I have to pretend to like what they are saying and go along with it. There are moments when I want to break character and jump across the table at them, but in order for the operation to carry out successfully, I need to stay in my undercover role.”
Danger is also sometimes part of Ballard’s life. “The moments leading up to an operation are usually the most dangerous, because there are so many unknowns as we are negotiating with the traffickers, talking money and meeting them in obscure places,” he says. “Thankfully I have a great team of operators who have been doing this work for a very long time, and amazing law enforcement partners as well.”
One of the hardest aspects of his job, however, is being away from his wife, Katherine, and seven children, plus the two they’re trying to adopt.
Raising money isn’t easy either. “We are a 501(c)(3) organization and operate completely from private donations, so donations are always welcome,” he says. “Thankfully we have received major support from donors all over the world.”
Helping Victims Become Survivors
On the bright side, he says, “Watching a child go from victim to survivor to conqueror is an unbelievable sight and one of the most rewarding parts of my job. Also, whenever we help arrest just one trafficker or pedophile, I think of all the children being saved since the average trafficker abuses anywhere from 100 to 200 victims in their lifetime.”
When not wearing his superhero cape, Ballard enjoys time with family, CrossFit and writing books about American History. He also starred in the documentary “The Abolitionist,” a privately funded film about Operation Underground Railroad.
Does he have an exit strategy from his current role as founder and CEO?
“The goal of Operation Underground Railroad is to eradicate child sex trafficking,” he says. “I will continue to fight toward that goal for the rest of my life.”