Timothy Ballard is founder and former CEO of Operation Underground Railroad and has made it his life’s work to go undercover as a sex trafficker in order to rescue those children enslaved in the trade. He is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Ballard began his career at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency where he worked on cases dealing with terrorism and Latin America. For more than ten years, he worked as a special agent for 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. His work to infiltrate child trafficking organizations has positioned him in the United States and many foreign countries where he has successfully dismantled dozens of these organizations and rescued children from sex slavery. It is estimated that two million children are being trafficked as sex slaves in the world today.
Ballard was trained to fight terrorism, so when his boss asked him to help form a child crimes unit, he was surprised and initially said no. His boss indicated that Ballard’s religious background would strengthen him against the horrific crimes he would be facing. So Ballard and his wife, Katherine, fasted and prayed about the decision and said yes.
- It wasn’t long after his first case, which led to the rescue of a 5-year-old boy, that he again doubted if he could withstand the emotional, psychological, and spiritual toll.
- “This little boy was being violated in the worst possible way,” he recalls. “I was the first agent on the scene, and he jumped into my arms and wouldn’t let go. I came home that night and collapsed on the floor and cried like a baby.”
- “I told my wife, ‘I can’t do this.’ These children are being kidnapped and raped. There is nothing worse on earth. There is nothing worse in hell.” But he felt a powerful confirmation that this was what he was supposed to do. “I made a commitment to God and to that little boy that I would do everything I could, even if it killed me.”
When Ballard felt burdened by the limits of his work—he could only work on cases if they involved U.S. citizens—increased spiritual experiences prompted him to move to Utah and do more in the field. He left his job with the government (in December 2013) and his family moved in 2012. There things fell into place to start Operation Underground Railroad (OUR) and his specialized team began operations in January 2014. His team liberated more than two hundred children in 2014 alone. The children they rescue are rehabilitated through skilled organizations.
Ballard is no longer working undercover. Instead, he has trained hundreds of law enforcement officers worldwide and seeks to educate the public about this plague that is a global fast-growing and lucrative criminal industry. Academy Award-winning producer Gerald Molen made a documentary on Ballard and his work entitled “The Abolitionists,” which premiered in 2014. Ballard’s team is developing software that will track child pornography and lead law enforcement to the pornographers. Pornography is at the core of the child sex slave industry.
Ballard rescued a brother and sister in Haiti and is in the process of adopting them. He and his wife already have six children. Tim has taught American and International Politics at San Diego State University and at Imperial Valley College. Ballard is the author of The Lincoln Hypothesis: A Modern-day Abolitionist Investigates the Possible Connection between Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and Abraham Lincoln, The Covenant, Lincoln, and the War, and The Covenant: America's Sacred and Immutable Connection to Ancient Israel. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Spanish and politics from Brigham Young University and his master’s degree in international politics from Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.
In 2023, Ballard is the subject of a new film by Angel Studios, Sound of Freedom. Writer/director Alejandro Monteverde began formulating a screenplay on the subject of the sex trafficking of children before he had ever heard of Tim Ballard.
- “It was late at night”, he says, “I was writing another project … I always liked to watch Dateline or 20/20—real things that are happening. There was a piece on child trafficking. It shook my soul. It really shook my soul. Not only because of the horror of child sexual exploitation, but also because I didn’t know about it.”
- “How come I didn’t know about this? It was completely news to me.”
- The next day, he woke up on a mission. He started doing research and decided to write a fictional story on this topic. He was weeks into it, when he got a phone call from his producer, Eduardo Verástegui. “He asked me ‘have you started writing the screenplay?’ ‘No, I’m still working on the treatment.’ ‘Well, stop. Before you continue, I want you to meet Tim Ballard. Why don’t you Google him and call me back.’”
- Angel Studios is campaigning to have 2 million people in the seats for Sound of Freedom on its opening day, July 4, 2023, to represent the 2 million children trafficked this year. Supporting this film in its opening weekend sends a message to other theaters and to the studios that this subject and this type of filmmaking matters. The better a film does in its opening week, the more theaters choose to show that film, the more people will see it and awareness of this will spread.
- The more people that are activated on this subject, the more voices there will be to rise up on questions of legislation related to it, non-profit efforts, and preventive measures. There is a direct relationship between making this matter to more people and more children being saved from such darkness.
He has served as a senior advisor to SPEAR, an organization that aims to collaborate with organizations to end human trafficking. In September 2023, Ballard testified to the House Homeland Security Committee about the international exploitation of children.
Also in September 2023, Ballard became the subject of news articles about him. See FAIR for questions and answers about the Ballard current events. Also see Ballard's response.