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Sound of Freedom Highlights Child Trafficking and Modern Slavery

The film Sound of Freedom, based on real events related to child trafficking and the global sex trade, has proven to be a box office success. It also addresses one of the modern world’s most grotesque crises, and its protagonist, Timothy Ballard, has spoken up regarding US policies toward human trafficking or modern slavery.

The Film

Sound of Freedom Poster. Tim Ballard (Jim Caviezel), Roberto (Jose Zuniga), Miguel (Lucas Avila). Cast listed here. Credited to Angel Studios.

Sound of Freedom spent years on the shelf. Daisy Phillipson of Dexerto recalls that the film was originally acquired by 21st Century Fox in 2018. However, when Disney acquired Fox in 2019, the movie was effectively shelved. Eduardo Verastegui, the producer, and the other makers of the film attempted to retrieve the rights. This would be achieved when Angel Studios acquired the distribution rights in March 2023

Sound of Freedom was released by Angel Studios on July 4th through support from investments. After its second weekend, the movie’s box office receipts have surpassed $85 million dollars according to Box +Office Mojo.

Angel Studios has engaged in a promotional campaign aimed at convincing viewers to buy tickets for others, and has offered an opportunity for free tickets. The studio claims to have sold nearly 8 million tickets in the process. Writing for Screen Rant, Dhruv Sharma reports that Angel Studios had a budget of $14.5 million for Sound of Freedom. Sharma also states that “crowdsourcing” provided approximately $5 million in funds to usher the movie to the big screen.

Human and Child Trafficking

Human trafficking is a big business in the global economy. The United States Department of State estimates that there are approximately 27.6 million individuals forced or coerced into modern slavery of one form or another. While the majority are adults, children are not exempted from this practice. World’s Children asserts that around “27% of trafficking victims are children”, the majority of whom are trafficked as labor.

The organization further reports that “66% of child trafficking victims are girls” worldwide. Girls are more likely to lack access to quality education and economic opportunities. Often, particularly with women and girls, false job opportunities or the chance to be married without one’s family having to provide a dowry are employed as means to “trick” one into being trafficked, frequently for sex. Victims of sex trafficking are overwhelmingly female, though not exclusively.

The Inspiration

Tim Ballard left the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and founded the organization Operation Underground Railroad in 2013. He did this to save children he had been unable to help as a DHS agent. The organization’s website clearly states its objective to “lead the fight against child sex trafficking and sexual exploitation” worldwide.

O.U.R. lays out four strategies to combat the trade. The organization conducts international operations to assist local authorities in combating child trafficking. O.U.R. also works with US law enforcement against traffickers. Operators also ensure that aftercare services are available for victims before operations are conducted. Its Children Need Families program works to prevent the trafficking of “at-risk” children by arranging for adoption and assisting in financing the process.

O.U.R. claims participation in over 4,000 operations, assistance toward arresting over 6,500 traffickers, and to have “impacted 7000+ lives” since its formation.

Cartagena and Congress

Tim Ballard before Congress. Credited to C-SPAN.org

In 2014, O.U.R operatives working with Colombian authorities carried out Operation Triple Take in Cartagena. The operation freed 123 survivors and arrested 20 traffickers. One of Sound of Freedom’s main acts hinges around this operation. The details were altered for the purpose of the film. The actual operation was outlined in a May 2015 hearing of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Global Human Rights by Sean Reyes, the Attorney General of Utah. Reyes took part in the operation in “the role of translator and bodyguard” for the operative posing as the main investor in a venture to build a child sex hotel while holding the aforementioned office. 

During the hearing in the House, Reyes reported that “about 2 million children are exploited every year in the global commercial sex trade”, with about 5 million being trafficked per year overall. Tim Ballard also participated in the hearing. He advocated for the removal of barriers that had prevented US officials and government organizations from rescuing children abroad. Ballard argued that the child sex trade served a particularly American clientele, a fact that aided in O.U.R.’s operations given that they were undercover as American tourists.

  “This is an American problem, no matter where on Earth the child victim happens to be,” Ballard declared.

This hearing was held to provide support for the International Megan’s Law, which was meant to combat “sex tourism” by Americans abroad, including banning “covered sex offenders” from travelling unless their passports had a particular form of identification. Ballard argued that the legislation “would help bridge a serious gap” in the fight against child trafficking. Former President Barrack Obama signed the legislation into law in 2016. 

Human Trafficking and the US/Mexico Border

Tim Ballard at White House. Credited to C-SPAN.org.

In February 2019, Ballard attended a meeting at the White House where former President Donald Trump spoke to “Homeland Security officials and others” on human trafficking. The former Homeland Security agent presented a contrast of two children in response to Trump’s discussion of human trafficking across the US Southern border. The first was a little girl trafficked into the US through a region where there were no barriers. She was brought to New York City and sold for sex.

  The second was a little boy who was trafficked to the border checkpoint at Mexicali; Ballard and others were able to rescue the boy at the checkpoint and arrest the perpetrator. This scene is portrayed in Sound of Freedom, where the boy is named Miguel. He credited that rescue, and several following ones, on traffickers being forced to go to points of entry where they could be caught.

“The wall was the difference,” Ballard said. “The wall rescued this little boy, and the lack of a wall caused this little girl to go through a hell that is indescribable…”

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