No problem can be solved unless you can see it clearly.
Too often, people jump in and act without having any real understanding of the problem–its nature and scope, its scale and dimensions. They make assumptions and conclusions, without proper investigation and clarity.
The result is always the same when you act without understanding. Failure.
Sometimes our erroneous assumptions are made based on deception by others. In WWII, when Normandy was invaded by the Allies, Hitler held several divisions in reserve instead of sending them to repel the invaders. Hitler thought the real invasion would be at Calais, led by Patton, and that the attack at Normandy was only a diversion.
This was a false scenario that was deliberately created by Eisenhower, who formed a fictional army commanded by George Patton. The entire army was projected using an elaborate ruse. It was all smoke and mirrors.
But it fooled Hitler long enough for the Allied forces to gain a foothold on Normandy.
Sometimes the false assumptions are based on personal bias, faulty information, distorted perception. Whatever the reason for the distorted understanding of the problem, strategies tailored to solve it will fail to the extent that your aim strays from the actual target.
Now that brings me to the current publicity about human trafficking, in particular child sex trafficking.
To date, the independent movie “Sound of Freedom” has brought in $40 million at the box office and has received high praise from all audiences. The IMDB rating is 8.7 out of 10. Rotten Tomatoes has a critic score of 87 percent and an audience score of 99 percent. The bottom line is that it is wildly popular.
But does it provide an accurate picture of the commercial sexual exploitation of children?
The movie, we are told, is based on a true story, involving an actual case that Tim Ballard of Operation Underground Railroad worked on as a special agent for Homeland Security before he left that position to start his private child rescue organization.
The case centered on a young boy and his sister who were kidnapped by child sex traffickers and sold into sex slavery, the boy to an American pedophile, and the girl to a Columbian rebel and drug lord. The whole movie is about Ballard’s efforts to crack the ring responsible for the kidnapping and to recover the girl. The boy was recovered early in the movie and his request of Ballard to find his sister was the motivation for all that followed.
In interviews prior to the movie coming out, both Jim Caviezel, who plays Ballard, and Tim Ballard insist that the story is true. Ballard claims that as an agent of Homeland Security, he received intelligence about an American trafficker who was returning to the US through the port at Calexico, California, possibly with a child he had bought.
When the trafficker was intercepted at the border, the boy was in the car. Ballard said he recognized him as the boy who had been in one of the videos he previously had watched of children being sexually abused.
After the trafficker was arrested, the boy ran to Ballard for safety. He gave Ballard a necklace inscribed with “Man of God,” 1 Timothy 6:11, and told him that his sister had given him the necklace before they were separated by the traffickers. He asked Ballard to find his sister, which Ballard promised to do. The rest of the film purports to depict the search for the sister.
Operation Underground Railroad admits that the story is not accurate. On their website they include what is true and false in the movie on their page “Sound of Freedom: Based on a True Story (Except for the Parts That Aren’t)” What they claim is true is the basic story, the story that led to Ballard founding Operation Underground Railroad:
- Ballard developed intelligence about an American trafficker smuggling children into the US from Mexico
- Ballard and other Homeland Security agents were waiting for the trafficker at the border
- The boy was in the car and had been kidnapped by the trafficker
- His sister was kidnapped at the same time
- The boy gave Ballard the necklace and asked him to find his sister
- Ballard’s search for the sister became his mission
- Homeland Security blocked Ballard from completing that mission to save the sister which prompted him to quit his job, sell everything, and risk his and his family’s future to find the girl
Operation Underground Railroad also claims that several of the operations in the movie are true, but were unrelated to finding the boy’s sister.
The basic story has remained somewhat consistent in Ballard’s telling over the years. This is the origin story for Operation Underground Railroad which he has told and retold countless times while publicizing the problem of child sex trafficking and promoting O.U.R. Yet, in the dozens of interviews of Ballard that I have reviewed, he provides no identifiable details about the boy or the trafficker.
Except in one.
Ballard was interviewed by Lewis Howes for his podcast on 7/29/20. Nine minutes and seventeen seconds into the podcast, Ballard talks about this case and identifies that trafficker as Earl Buchanan. There is a case against Buchanan. But the details are far from Ballard’s description.
First, there was no intelligence about Buchanan returning to the US with a kidnapped child. When Buchanan crossed the border into the US, he did not have paperwork for the child–his birth certificate, passport, a letter of permission from the boy’s parents. This prompted border control to question him further.
Buchanan reported that the boy was born in the US and was living in Banning, CA with his grandmother who had legal custody. He explained that he and the boy had been visiting friends across the border in Mexicali with the grandmother’s permission. The border patrol confirmed this with the grandmother by phone.
The border patrol also examined the contents of the vehicle. They found a camera with a video, which had nothing significant on it. But they found a second video that they viewed in the camera and it depicted a male sexually abusing a boy.
Border Patrol turned over the matter to investigations and Ballard caught the case. He reviewed the video and saw that the adult in the video was Buchanan. The child was the boy, who was identified as Jose in the court papers.
Buchanan was indicted and convicted of producing child pornography, transporting child pornography, and for kidnapping (since he was traveling with the boy under false pretenses). Buchanan was a long-time friend of the grandmother.
So how does the real story match up with Ballard’s origin story?
- There was no intelligence about an American trafficker smuggling children into the US
- Ballard was not waiting for Buchanan
- The boy had not been kidnapped except as a legal technicality
- The boy’s sister had not been kidnapped
- The boy did not give Ballard any necklace
- There was no search for the sister as she was at home with her grandmother the whole time
- Homeland Security did not pull the plug on Ballard’s efforts to find the girl
- There was no rescue from heavily armed rebels in the jungles of Colombia
Because the origin story is not true, it is not clear why Ballard started Operation Underground Railroad. I could find no indication he actually sold anything and risked his family’s future starting the organization as he reportedly got substantial initial financing from Glen Beck.
It also is not clear why child sexual exploitation is equated with traffickers who kidnap children into sex slavery. The film and most of O.U.R.’s promotional material make it seem this type of exploitation is routine, typical. Yet O.U.R. acknowledges “while this type of human trafficking exists, it isn’t the majority” in the disclaimer they recently posted on their website on June 27th.
I’ve been investigating child sexual exploitation and abuse for decades. Most experts that I know, research that I’ve reviewed, cases that I have studied, all indicate that the kidnapping of children anywhere in the world for the purposes of sexually exploiting them is rare. It’s even more rare in the US.
That doesn’t mean that the sexual exploitation of children is rare. In fact, it is a huge problem. In the United States, alone, there are 60 million adult survivors of child sexual abuse.
Ten percent of children are abused by an adult in the school system sometime between Kindergarten and 12th grade. A total of twenty percent of children experience some form of childhood sexual abuse, one in four girls and one in six boys. Some of these childhood victims go on to become embroiled in the commercial sex trade.
The problem of child sexual abuse is different in other countries. In some countries, a few poverty-stricken parents sell their children into sex or labor slavery. In other places, orphans on the street can become swept up in the trade. In very rare instances children are snatched off the street or lured by promises of a modeling or movie or singing career.
The movie mentions two million children being drawn into sex slavery every year. This is a wildly speculative figure that has no evidence to back it up.
The production of child pornography is another issue that is part of the child sex trade.
But did you know that the largest creators of child pornography are children themselves? Through sexting? Child pornography is an enterprise that dwarfs child sex trafficking in scope and scale.
Does it make any difference that “Sound of Freedom” is not a true story, or even close to being true? Isn’t it a good thing to draw attention to this issue to help mobilize people to do a better job protecting our children?
But what problem does “Sound of Freedom” point us toward fixing? It seems like it points toward spending more resources to stop the kidnapping and organized trafficking of children. In fact, that is exactly what Matt Osborne, the president and COO of O.U.R. hopes. He said he hopes “that it will create this movement of people to donate to [OUR] so we can fund additional rescue teams in the United States and around the world.”
When it is well known that the kind of trafficking depicted in “Sound of Freedom” comprises a tiny fraction of the problem and that the very foundation story that is used to explain why O.U.R was created is false . . . well, is spending more money on such rescues going to significantly reduce child sexual exploitation? No. Such an approach will fail because it is dramatically off-target.
We can see the problem of child sexual exploitation pretty clearly. It is a complex problem with many dimensions and many facets. It will not be easy to solve. And the solution cannot be outsourced to someone else, no matter how well-meaning they may be.
The first step in solving the problem is for adults to become much more knowledgeable about it.
Start with reading the Trafficking in Persons Report published by the State Department. Familiarize yourself with the website and recommended materials on the S.E.S.A.M.E website (Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct and Exploitation).
Read the book by my late friend, Dr. Judith Reisman, Sexual Sabotage. The book Predators by Dr. Anna Salter and the book Identifying Child Molesters by Dr. Carla van Dam.
These resources will equip you with some perspective, at least, so you won’t be fooled so easily.
It would be great if we could just hire the Magnificent Seven to save our children from the desperados exploiting them. But there is no magic cure, no easy fix. I’m 75 years old and if I’ve learned nothing else, I’ve learned that this observation I was told many years ago is true:
“The older I get and the more curtains I look behind, the more I realize there just aren’t any wizards out there.”
The ”Sound of Freedom” is pointing you in the wrong direction and Tim Ballard is no wizard.