A group of current and former members of Utah law enforcement have teamed up to help eradicate the world wide problem of child sex slavery.
There are an estimated 2 million child sex slaves in the world according to Tim Ballard, the founder of Operation Underground Railroad.
Ballard, a BYU Graduate and former member of the Department of Homeland Security, created the non-profit organization because he said he could get more done privately, than he could while working with the government.
"The deeper you get you realize how enormous this problem is, it's so much bigger than any human mind can grasp," said Ballard.
Since their beginning in January, Operation Underground Railroad has conducted operations in several countries in Central America.
During these missions they wear hidden cameras and go undercover pretending to be American sex tourists.
“We’re using equipment that’s better than the equipment I’ve used in the government, hidden cameras, cameras in our sunglasses, cameras embedded into our backpacks,” said Ballard.
During a recent mission in Columbia in October, the team infiltrated a sex party, rescuing 123 child slaves and arresting 15 traffickers.
“They’re selling these kids to you like they are selling a car or a computer,” said Ballard. "At our party they brought five 11-year-olds, including one little boy 11–years-old, who are offered to you as virgins and you pay a premium for them that's $1,000."
Operation Underground Railroad works hand in hand with the local government, who is responsible for making the actual bust.
"And so they do the deal, we pay the money and the Colombians come in and arrest everybody," said Ballard.
Ballard says the most difficult part of the mission is pretending to be a legit tourist looking for illegal sex.
“You have to look in their face and smile and laugh and hug them and say, ‘Oh this is wonderful, oh this little girl she is beautiful’ and they show me pictures and I have to pretend to love this,” said Ballard. "And the sad thing is how willing these guys are to sell to us because we're Americans. Because Americans are doing this."
Many of the team members have taken drastic pay cuts or even gone on missions for free, because this line of work is not about money, it’s about freedom.
“There’s nothing like that feeling when the case goes down and you see these kids being liberated,” said Ballard. “So yes it’s always worth it, it’s always worth it, but you’re kind of sobered quickly when you realize there’s so many more out there, where can we go next.”
So far this year, Operation Underground Railroad has rescued 240 children. There will be a documentary premiering next month at the Sundance Film Festival called, “The Abolitionist” which follows Ballard’s missions throughout Central America.
Ballard said he hopes to expand their missions into Asia and Africa in the upcoming year.