The founder of Operation Underground Railroad (OUR) is on a mission to end child trafficking and slavery. For a decade, Tim Ballard worked in the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force as a special agent for the Department of Homeland Security. He has successfully dismantled dozens of trafficking organizations and rescued countless children from sex slavery. To formulate his business plan, he bought every history book he could find on American slavery.
The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes and safe houses established in the United States during the early to mid-19th century. They were used by African American slaves to escape into free states and Canada with the aid of abolitionists and allies sympathetic to their cause. The original Underground Railroad was a group that acted and infiltrated, and that’s precisely what Ballard is inspired to do today.
In the past six years, OUR has rescued more than 3,800 victims and assisted in the arrests of more than 2,100 traffickers worldwide. Through partnerships with like-minded organizations, they have collectively rescued more than 10,000 survivors who were enslaved, exploited, or at risk.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men and women to do nothing,” says Ballard, quoting 18th Century statesman, Edmund Burke.
“The original Underground Railroad saw people of all colors and creeds coming together to rescue people. Some of these people would pose as slave catchers to learn who was being sought and then devise plans to throw the slave owners off their trails. It’s one of the most inspiring stories of history I have ever heard,” says Ballard. Today, Ballard is doing just that, using similar covert operations to put sex traffickers and pedophiles behind bars. Slavery is not only part of history, either. According to Sean Reves, Utah’s Attorney General, there is more modern-day slavery than at any other time in history.
“You have to make a decision,” says Ballard. “The world is in turmoil in so many ways, and it’s sometimes easier to crawl into a fetal position and ride it out. But that’s not what we should do — indecision is also a decision. It’s important to stand up for what you believe in and do something that benefits society. Stand up to the evils that hurt people.”
Ballard reckons that many of us aren’t paying attention when our calling comes. He thinks we should keep our minds open to significant events that move us; it could signal the start of a whole new journey. For Ballard, that moment happened 10 years ago, while still considering a career in fighting crimes against children. “We were rescuing a little boy who had been kidnapped from Mexico,” he recalls. “During the investigation, he gave me a necklace on which was written, “Man of God.” It was a necklace his sister had given him, who had also been trafficked. I found power in that symbol and still wear it today.”
Despite the horrific things he has seen, Ballard believes that through all the darkness, there are still more good people in the world than bad. “Humanity is good by nature, and most people want to improve their lives continually,” he says. “I focus on the light that I can see in people around me, and I have seen more light this year than ever.
“A leader must be optimistic and bring hope; a plan that inspires others to be confident,” he concludes. “Leaders can’t always have the right answer, but surround yourself with people who have great ideas and empower them — it doesn’t always have to be about you.”