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Opinion: 6 Groups Fighting Human Trafficking Better Than Operation Underground Railroad

By Sarah Einselen
girl trafficking
Several reputable organizations work to prevent and intervene in sex trafficking and forced labor. (Photo: Creative commons)

Controversy has followed the release of the film “Sound of Freedom,” and with good reason. The film dramatizes the work of Operation Underground Railroad (OUR). As Warren Cole Smith revealed in a previous piece, OUR has amassed $80 million in assets but continues to raise funds. And OUR’s highly publicized “jump” raids may do little to help actual victims and may even harm them.

Though these valid concerns by Smith, and publications like Christianity Today and Vice, have sadly been characterized as “smear by leftists,” they are not. The facts are damning.

Plus, embattled OUR founder Tim Ballard reportedly left the organization recently. OUR claims Ballard left before the movie’s July 4 premiere. But an OUR press release on June 8 referred to him as “Operation Underground Railroad’s Tim Ballard.” And he is still the only person named on OUR’s About Us page.

In light of all this, any discerning person would think twice before giving to OUR. But since human trafficking remains a huge problem, many of us would like to do something—but what?

Fortunately, OUR is not the only organization fighting human trafficking. There are at least six other outstanding organizations that prevent and intervene in sex trafficking and forced labor, but do a far better job than OUR.

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These organizations are transparent about their use of donor funds and have a good track record of effectiveness, too. Most of these are Christian, and some focus specifically on child trafficking.

Six Anti-Trafficking Alternatives to OUR

  1. Polaris Project has run the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline for over 15 years, putting more than 30,000 trafficking victims and survivors in touch with the help they need. Polaris also compiles data on human trafficking to share with other organizations — helping ensure everyone’s resources are used responsibly.
  2. Free the Slaves focuses on ending the conditions that allow human trafficking to exist. Among other efforts, it puts the heat on governments all over the world to establish policies that make people less vulnerable to exploitation. It also pressures leaders to make sure justice is served for those who have survived being trafficked.
  3. International Justice Mission is one of the oldest and most well-known Christian anti-trafficking organizations. Early on, it sustained some criticism for its focus on rescues, or raids of brothels. But now, the organization also works to help convict traffickers; provides aftercare for trafficking victims to prevent their being trafficked again; and trains government officials and others in recognizing signs of trafficking and addressing it.
  4. The Exodus Road* also works internationally in partnership with law enforcement agencies. Besides training police in how to fight human trafficking, the organization also provides community training and survivor aftercare. It recently launched TraffickWatch Academy US, a free online course to help activists in the U.S. understand what trafficking looks like and how to help fight it.
  5. Remember Nhu aims to end child trafficking through prevention. It’s named for a Cambodian woman who was trafficked at 12 years old before going on to help launch the organization. Remember Nhu operates 120 children’s homes in 16 countries for kids at risk of being trafficked.
  6. Rapha International focuses on prevention and aftercare to reduce child trafficking. Donations fund medical care, counseling, and basic needs like shelter for children who have been rescued from trafficking, along with family and community supports to keep vulnerable kids from being trafficked. Rapha works in southeast Asia and in Missouri.

Finding other organizations to support

This list is by no means exhaustive. It would be a gargantuan task to vet every organization working against human trafficking. But the organizations listed here have taken concrete steps toward transparency, like posting their audited financials and IRS Form 990 filings on their websites.

You may be surprised that some well-known anti-trafficking organizations aren’t listed. For example, I didn’t include Nick and Christine Caine’s A21, one of the largest such groups.

That’s partly because A21 is one of a few select charities that has received annual six-figure grants from the Hillsong Foundation. Yet, as The Roys Report (TRR) previously reported, “There is no competitive application process from the Hillsong Foundation,” according to a whistleblower. Plus, Nick Caine has served on multiple Hillsong boards and managed one of Houston’s LLCs, which presents a conflict of interest.

christine caine trafficking
Christine Caine speaks at a conference. (Photo: Creative Commons)

My other concern with A21 is that it forces you to email a request for their financials, instead of simply posting their annual Form 990 filings and audited annual statements on the website. I emailed to ask the reason for this policy, but did not hear back.

Other organizations focus on fighting human trafficking on a local or regional level, and our list focuses on national and international organizations. Traffick911, for example, responds to child sex trafficking crises and advocates for trafficked survivors in North Texas.

If you’re interested in finding out about similar efforts in your own city, you can ask your local law enforcement agencies or child advocacy centers what organizations they partner with. You can search the Human Trafficking Hotline’s directory of local services, too.

But remember to look for organizations that are transparent and accountable.

Get comfortable reading Form 990, the IRS filing required of tax-exempt organizations. It’ll reveal how much support an organization raises, how much it spends, and how expenditures are broken down. You can find whether a lot is being spent on fundraising versus actual program expenses, for example, in Part IX of the main form. Top leaders’ salaries are listed in Part VII, too. You can use all that information to gauge whether an organization is being responsible with your donations.

An organization’s Form 990 will also list its board members and whether they are independent. When it comes to finances and other major decisions, the buck stops with the board. Its members should not be related to each other or employed by the organization. That way, the board’s decisions will be focused on the best interests of trafficking survivors, and won’t be complicated by competing interests. Look for potential conflicts of interest on a Form 990’s Schedule L, and check Schedule O for details on board relationships.

You can also learn a lot about an organization from good journalism. A simple web search can turn up information that a shady organization wouldn’t want you to know. Or, you might search and find story after story about a reputable organization’s amazing impact. It’s worth trying multiple search engines, since each one uses a different algorithm to produce search results.

Finally, remember that the experience depicted in “Sound of Freedom” doesn’t reflect what human trafficking usually looks like. We have to grasp the reality of human trafficking if we want to combat it effectively and keep survivors from being revictimized.

Joash Thomas, a spokesman for International Justice Mission Canada, noted that “most people would be shocked to learn how unglamorous and mundane effective anti-trafficking work actually is.”

Poring over IRS filings might seem mundane, too. But insisting that organizations remain accountable for their work will spur them to do their best, with your donations, to save kids from trafficking.

Update: An A21 spokesman provided a copy of its most recent Form 990 after this article was published. “We value being transparent with our finances while also making sure to safeguard this data and avoid potential security risks and breaches that could arise from public disclosure on our website,” the spokesperson wrote in the email. “While we do not currently publish our financials on our website, we are more than willing to share this information with those who express genuine interest.”

*Update: After this article was published, TRR received information about a controversy surrounding Exodus Road. An open letter accused the organization of several instances of misconduct from 2014-2020, and the allegations were reported by the Global Observer, an international publication run by Northeastern University students. You can read the Global Observer’s investigation to learn more.

Sarah Einselen is an award-winning writer and editor based in Texas.

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27 Responses

  1. name one group that has raise public awareness to such a level as OUR, and this movie? though i donate monthly to INTERNATIONAL JUSTICE MISSION, i have never even heard of any of the others, so thank you for that. though why such much animosity is being directed to this movie and group?

    1. How much money are you getting from OUR? Political nonsense in place of common sense does not help anyone. Good charities are transparent, period. And they are more than a lot of sensationalized hype.

    2. because this group is a profit scheme, and they are profiting off human trafficking. there are countless stories about how shady and corrupt they are, and they’re making MILLIONS off of their savior complex, often doing more harm than good to actual victims.

      1. Ok, I’m going to bite…Jen are you being sarcastic? Because you’re basically stating fact but in a sarcastic manner.

    3. It’s basically like when the Marlboro Man did anti-smoking ads. Yes, they were super effective and brought a huge light on the negative side effects. But deep down you just knew something was wrong and once you did a tap bit of research you learned how much money the Marlboro franchise made, it was shocking!

      Much like OUR, the money they continue to make on this movie and their drive to raise even more funds. Look into their previous/current checkered financial records. The proof is in the records!

    4. Roger, does it bother you that Ballard sells personal Pay per View rescues to rich donors for tens of thousands of dollars?

      Sounds like a step up from another Superbowl party. Right?

      (From the article linked below)


      In 2015, a Silicon Valley man funded a sting with $40,000 and watched it happen in real time. With the help of OUR, a rich person can become a vigilante hero for the day, their living room transformed into a personal situation room

  2. It’s sad how just a few minutes of some google research and a decent post will get you a wave of backlash. I couldn’t imagine the response brought by a fair amount of solid research and real journalism to a person.

    This docuproduction has caused a lot of uproar for anyone bringing up the other side of the conversation, you know…the truth about Ballard and OUR. Don’t forget that Hollywood jesus, Jim Caviezel is involved with Ballard. For some that’s basically blessed and can’t be pressed! This deal is even going to be shown at Maralago, but that says enough right there! They showed 2000 Mules as well, truth is definitely subjective in that place!

    All that to be said, I’m very thankful for the truth about this organization and Tim Ballard being exposed. Continue to fight the good fight!

  3. Thank you Sarah. This is excellent reporting. Intuitively I knew this movie was a cover up for something. Thanks to The Roys Report, Ministry Watch, Sheila Gregoire, and others, I have learned to step back, look for patterns of systemic manipulation and abuse and not get caught up in the whirlwind of who is the shiniest, flashiest, loudest, glamorous, etc. good grief the lies I believed before. So thank you Sarah and all of TRR for your excellence and commitment to sharing the truth, which means, sharing the good news of Jesus. Jesus is nowhere in the cesspools of the abuse but He is always in the invitation to be set free in Him.

    Beth

  4. Wait….is it a competition to see who can free the most enslaved people? I had no idea! I thought we were all working together to defeat evil in our world.

    Philippians 1 : 15 – 18 (NIV)

    ‘It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”

    The important thing is that the SIN of child trafficking is being highlighted and attacked. We should be able to agree on that. Leave the motivation factor in God’s court.

    1. Except that there are countless stories of Ballard and OUR doing actual harm to victims. Their methods actually cause children to be trafficked, because they go into areas and push for younger and younger victims, which then cause traffickers to go find those young victims. There are also countless stories of “rescued” people getting no support, no help, no after care, and ending up trafficked again. All while they get rich. This is not Christ being preached, this is a grift.

      1. Jen:

        Repeating accusations does not provide proof. Do you have any actual evidence for the claims you are making?

          1. Jen:

            I read the Julie Roys article. It struck me more as an opinion piece as opposed to a fact-based one.

            Further, the other two sources you cite have been debunked on numerous occasions.

            And, please, try reading the Bible verses I posted one more time. Do you see Paul’s point? Regardless of motivation, regardless of money, regardless of …anything you can name…

            the word is out. That’s what matters in the end.

          2. I hope and pray she can thoughtfully respond to each of the points made in the articles (links) you posted.

            So far she resorts to defensive piety which I find disappointing.

        1. Cynthia, sex traffickers are literally kidnapping children for the OUR operations. And what good are the rescues if the kids do not have anywhere to go afterwards?

          I was told two of the children had been trafficked for the first time that day. It didn’t seem to occur to anyone that OUR may have created a demand. After the sting, I asked people on the jump team where the 26 kids were taken. I was given only vague answers…

          I found out what really happened from a Foreign Policy report:

          “In 2014, after OUR’s first operation in the Dominican Republic, a local organization called the National Council for Children and Adolescents quickly discovered it didn’t have the capacity to handle the 26 girls rescued. They were released in less than a week.”


          Called by God

          In 2014, I went on a vigilante raid to “save” kids sold for sex. What we did haunts me now.
          BY MEG CONLEY
          MAY 11, 2021

    2. Cynthia – True what you have written. We all have to believe in Jesus for Salvation, or in unbelief face the second death.

    3. We need faith and works to take care of this problem not upvoting comments on social media, concocting wild conspiracy theories or just ‘thoughts and prayers’.

    4. I hope you bring this same energy to Black Lives Matter- where Christ’s justice is being preached every day (false motives or true, right?) Because every time I mention that BLM is doing the Lords work where churches are absolutely failing, I get so much pushback about corruption and bad ideology and marxism and whatnot- but if we’re ok with anything as long as a light is being shown on injustice, and people are trying- consistency demands that you are FOR Black Lives Matter also, right? False motives or true?

      1. Jen:

        Sorry, but Black Lives Matter does not preach Christ’s justice on any level. Christ supports the family – BLM seeks to destroy it. Christ loves all people, regardless of skin color – BLM believes white people are oppressors. I could go on, but I will stop there.

        Be careful, Jen. There is a very big difference between the Gospel and its message and BLM’s message.

        Paul’s point was that the GOSPEL was being preached. He did not examine the motivation behind those preaching it.

        1. Cynthia, such hypocracy. BLM’s message is straight Gospel truth, especially when you look at how Jesus spent his life- he was literally on the side of the marginalized every single time. Jesus came to bring justice for the weak, and Matthew 25 states clearly that Jesus will be separating the sheep and goats based on how people treat those who are hungry, thirsty, in need of housing and in need of justice. BLM is addressing those things FAR better than most churches and most “christians”. It is Gospel work.

          didn’t you say that it’s “Regardless of motivation, regardless of money, regardless of …anything you can name…” By false motives or true- be consistent, if you celebrate OUR and Ballard, and come to their defense, you owe it to BLM to do the same, since they’re actually doing the work of Christ.

          1. Jen:

            Jesus never supported sinful behavior. He loved people, he hated sin. If you understand the Gospel of Jesus, you will see that he consistently came out swinging against SIN.

            I have interacted with you before. Do you have trouble accepting a Jesus who loves sinners but hates the sin?

            BLM’s message is NOT “straight Gospel truth” unless you believe in a “gospel” that does not adhere to the truth of the Bible.

            And, if you don’t believe in the Bible’s ultimate authority and its unquestionable veracity, we have nothing further to say to each other. I stand on the Bible and its truths. What do you stand on? I believe you stand on a social gospel that does not need Jesus and his redemption from sin. It just needs people who do good works.

            Trust me – without repentance and Jesus’s redeeming power, good works will mean absolutely nothing when Jesus separates the goats from the sheep.

  5. Roger, thank you! I agree with your comments. My wife and I just returned from viewing “Sound of Freedom” – after I had read Sarah’s post this afternoon. Christianity Today has been “leftist” for years. By the way, 2000 Mules has Never been proved to be untrue, we watched it a couple of years ago when the major news outlets were and still are “hiding” it from the public. And why the continued disparagement of President Trump – he is a man of the world. If one is a Christian one does not call out others as “chief of sinners”, but as the apostle Paul consider oneself as chief of sinners.

  6. Several years ago, I commented on a Roys Report post regarding internal controls and compliance protocols. I am unable to find that article in the archives. A I recall it related to the Ravi Zacharias (RZIM) revelations in 2021. That event encouraged me to question every nonprofit I was supporting at the time. I shared then that some responded by citing scripture, in one case 54 scripture references, while at the same time avoiding answering my questions. Others blatantly ignored the question. Two nonprofits gave me specifically what I requested and encouraged me to contact them again if I had further questions. In my earlier commentary I indicated one of those nonprofits had become my benchmark for evaluating all nonprofits. I didn’t name them at the time, but it is Rapha International, one of the nonprofits cited in this article. As is common in most walks of life, when you find someone who sets a high mark in one aspect of their operations, you’ll typically find the same commitment all through the organization. I look for organizations that don’t engage in overt mass media efforts. When asked directly, they can demonstrate specifically what they do, and more importantly how and why they do it. In my view, except for confidential information, no question is off limits. Nothing can improve on my own due diligence by asking my own direct, germane questions to which I expect direct, germane answers. My initial findings were recently confirmed by the government of Thailand when they honored Rapha International as the Outstanding Anti-Trafficking Organization of the Year in that country. No movies. No theological/political affinities. Simply unsolicited, public, civic gratitude. Rapha is not alone. Others are out there. Find them by asking your own questions. Require satisfactory answers.

  7. I’m happy to hear there are multiple organizations taking on human trafficking. The more I learn about it, the more I believe multi-pronged networks of people and organizations are needed to tackle it.
    It’s unfortunate that where there are large sums of money involved, there is controversy….especially by people and organizations that profess Christ. I just pray it doesn’t hinder any interest or impact in addressing trafficking and spreading the gospel.

  8. Thanks to Sarah for this excellent and informative article.
    I myself have been guilty of mocking opportunists like OUR and conspiracy grifters like Dinesh D’Sousa (2000 Mules) without taking the time to carefully articulate the facts of the matter or layout a more hopeful, reality-based view of the situation.

    Articles like this provide a factual pathway out of merely being cynical and instead help us toward becoming an informed and responsible supporter of groups that are actually doing the quiet, hard work of making things better.

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