Waking to the Reality—Human and Child Sex Trafficking in the U.S.

An International Megan’s Law, Operation Underground Railroad, and “The Abolitionists” bring awareness to modern slavery and the need for strong response to these complex crimes.

In a recent Politico article, “The Truth About Sex Trafficking,” human trafficking is cited as the second fastest-growing criminal industry in the world, generating over $32 billion annually.

I live in the U.S. and my 4th of July was spent celebrating with my family and friends. I hold the classic viewpoint of praising the nation’s heritage, laws, history, society, and people. I think of independence and freedom as opposed to coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power, suppression, exploitation, and vulnerability.

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Yet, as we gather this year, a very real and complex crime is proliferating; human trafficking is happening right here in the U.S.

With more than 20 million worldwide victims, mostly women, and 5.5 million children, according to one projection by the Polaris Project, this despicable crime trend is modern slavery on a worldwide scale.

According to the same Polaris Project source, traffickers use a combination of criminal tactics to control other people for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex or forcing them to provide labor services against their will. All trafficking victims share one essential experience—the loss of freedom.

Last year, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes had a personal experience with the trafficking of children, which became game-changing for him and a priority focus for his administration. In 2014, the Utah AG’s office filed 34 felony charges against human trafficking criminal Victor Rax, who later killed himself in jail. With eyes, mind, and heart wide open, AG Reyes gained international acclaim when news broke of his travel to a dangerous area of South America last year with Operation Underground Railroad. During the covert operation, AG Reyes posed as a bodyguard and translator to help liberate more than 100 children from a sex trafficking ring that spanned multiple locations. The sting had the support of both the U.S. and Colombian governments; two U.S. Department of Homeland Security investigators were also present.

OUR jump team including Tim Ballard and AG Reyes celebrates a successful undercover bust that resulted in saving over 100 girls from Colombian sex trafficking cartel

“Protecting children and women from exploitation by providing advance notice of intended travel by registered child-sex offenders to the government of the country of destination is another powerful step toward stopping this all too true crime trend,” said Reyes. “I can tell you this deplorable multibillion dollar industry continues to flourish and must be stopped. By advancing International Megan’s Law, I am hopeful we can significantly reduce sex tourism and human and child sex trafficking on a nationwide and global scale.”

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes preparing security detail during undercover child sex trafficking sting in Colombia organized by OUR

There isn’t an Attorney General in the United States more involved in tackling human and child sex trafficking than Reyes, who in May testified before Congress in support of H.R. 515 International Megan’s Law, sponsored by Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), a bill that if passed into law would do the following (Source: H.R. 515):

Directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to establish within the Child Exploitation Investigations Unit of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement the Angel Watch Center, which shall:

  • Receive information on travel by child-sex offenders;
  • Establish a system to maintain and archive all relevant information, including decisions not to transmit notification abroad and responses of destination countries to notifications;
  • Establish an annual review process to ensure that the Angel Watch Center is consistent in procedures regarding providing notification to destination countries;
  • Establish a mechanism to receive complaints from child-sex offenders affected by notifications of destination countries.

And, also requires the Center to engage in ongoing consultations with:

  • Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that have experience in identifying and preventing child sex tourism and rescuing and rehabilitating minor victims of international sexual exploitation and trafficking;
  • The governments of countries interested in cooperating in the creation of an international sex offender travel notification system or that are primary destination or source countries for international sex tourism, and;
  • Internet service and software providers regarding technology to facilitate the implementation of an international sex offender travel notification system in the United States and in other countries.

According to the Congressional subcommittee that oversees human trafficking, our government runs sting operations abroad to catch U.S. pedophile sex tourists and rescue victims. However, the U.S. often has to look to others to conduct rescue operations or run investigations that fall outside its jurisdiction. For this reason, NGOs with expertise are leading out in an effort to bust traffickers on the worldwide stage.

One such NGO is former CIA agent and Homeland Security undercover operative and special agent Tim Ballard. He spent 11 years investigating child trafficking and pedophile rings in the U.S. By December 2013, he was so upset by what he witnessed and so frustrated by governmental restrictions, that he quit and founded his own not-for-profit rescue team called Operation Underground Railroad (OUR).

Utah Attorney General and OUR jump team members negotiating with Colombian cartel members

According to Reyes, an advocate of OUR, “Operation Underground Railroad is an amazing organization. They set up operations worldwide to liberate children from the clutches of traffickers and then provide them with the care, counseling and recovery resources needed for survival. OUR deals directly with law enforcement and child services in each of the countries they operate with the invitation and blessing of the ambassadors, heads of state, or other top government officials, and they do so with the support of American federal agencies.”

Reyes added, “Most of the OUR leaders came from U.S. federal agencies, including the CIA, FBI, and Homeland Security. OUR also has Navy Seals and Army Special Forces members comprising their elite operations teams.”

Ballard and his team of mostly volunteers—who call themselves the Abolitionists because of parallels to the movement to end slavery—have completed missions with the cooperation of foreign governments and police departments in Haiti, Columbia, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Mexico and other locations. Ballard also testified with AG Reyes before Congress in support of pending sex trafficking legislation.

Early on, an investor offered to fund a film on OUR’s operations. The process started with a feature-length documentary, “The Abolitionists,” produced by FletChet Entertainment, which chronicled the launch of OUR and its first two missions. To date, the documentary has had private screenings and is yet to be released theatrically; it is currently being shopped as a 10-episode TV documentary series by EveryWhere Productions, the company of David Calvert-Jones, Dan Angel, and veteran TV executive Tom Mazza.

“No project has ever moved me in my career the way ‘The Abolitionists’ did,” said Mazza, former president of Sony and Paramount TV, in a recent Deadline.com interview. “These are true heroes, Tim Ballard is today’s Chris Kyle. To see the show was quite remarkable—it’s a mission for me as much as it’s a business.”

To get learn more about human and child sex trafficking, Operation Underground Railroad and how to get involved as part of a jump team or donor, click on ourrescue.org today!


Lee Bagdasarian Rech

A lifelong Republican who hails from Boston, Lee Bagdasarian Rech arrived in the Beehive State in 1991. Rech founded LBR Communications Inc., an independent marketing/public relations and professional writing agency in 1996. LBR has placed numerous editorial and local and national broadcast segments including: Forbes.com, The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Salt Lake Tribune, Deseret News, Utah Business, Salt Lake Magazine, Phoenix Business Journal, OC Register, Bloomberg, Fox13, KUTV Channel 2, ABC4, KSL TV Channel 5, FNC, among others. When she’s not hunkered down in her office strategizing on political campaigns, working on PR projects, freelance writing, or blogging, Rech can be found spending time with her husband and two children, working out at the gym, gardening or riding her horse. She received her master’s degree in literature from King’s College, University of London, and a bachelor’s degree from Denison University.

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