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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.