Released in theaters last week, “Sound of Freedom” tells the true story of Tim Ballard, a Homeland Security agent who quits his job and joins forces with local Latin American law enforcement and underground contacts to rescue children caught in human trafficking. The film portrays Ballard as he sets up a sting operation that successfully frees a young Honduran boy and reunites him with his father. When the boy tells him about his sister who is still in captivity, Ballard becomes determined to find her. The heartfelt thriller has proven surprisingly successful, beating “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” at the box office on July 4.
Despite the heavy subject matter, “Sound of Freedom” leaves viewers feeling hopeful and motivated to make a difference. In the film, Ballard’s character expresses understandable frustration that more is not being done to free enslaved children, saying, “And every day, ordinary people don’t want to hear it. It’s too ugly for polite conversation.” The film’s early success will hopefully prove that thinking false.
Human trafficking — both sex trafficking and labor trafficking, including of children — remains a widespread global problem, and America is not left untouched. Here is what you should know about human trafficking.
1. Human Trafficking Is More Prevalent Than You Think
The U.S. Department of Justice defines human trafficking as “a crime that involves compelling or coercing a person to provide labor or services, or to engage in commercial sex acts.” This coercion can be presented as “subtle or overt, physical or psychological.” The breadth of the issue creates a complex web of victims with different experiences, the majority of which never receive justice for the evil committed against them.
It is estimated that nearly 28 million individuals are trafficked globally at any given time. Human trafficking creates a global profit of $150 billion each year, making it “the most lucrative crime after drug trafficking.” Even so, only a fraction of traffickers are punished for their crimes. In 2022, there were 15,159 prosecutions worldwide for trafficking, yet these culminated in only 5,577 convictions. In the United States specifically, the National Human Trafficking Hotline received over 10,000 reports regarding 16,554 victims throughout 2021.
While human trafficking is not limited just to sex crimes, statistics reveal that the U.S. is a top consumer of child sex in the world. In the U.S. alone, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children received more than 17,200 reports of child sex trafficking in the United States in 2021. Geoff Rogers, co-founder of the United States Against Human Trafficking, reports how the “United States is the No. 1 consumer of sex worldwide,” and demand is often being driven with children. Rogers asserts there are “a multitude of kids that are being sold as sex slaves today in America,” over half of which come from the foster care system. These statistics confirm the somber reality of this evil; child sex trafficking not only exists in foreign nations, but it thrives here in our communities.
2. Porn Creates Demand for Sex trafficking, Including for Child Sex Trafficking
Studies have shown the consumption of pornography contributes to the objectification of human beings and an “acceptance of sexual mistreatment.” In a lecture on the link between pornography and sex trafficking conducted by the Family Research Council, Arina Grossu emphasized the addictive nature of pornography, which fuels the demand for more pornographic material and sex acts. Many of these commodities are provided by individuals who are sex trafficked.
Specifically, research shows that those who observe pornography most often were also the ones to purchase women in prostitution for sex acts. Journalist John-Henry Westen asserts that viewership creates increased acceptance for violent, disturbing pornography, ultimately culminating in a clientele for the sex trafficking industry. With desensitization — and even broad acceptance — of porn consumption and engaging in pornographic activity, sex trafficking victims are used to meet the demand and produce content without the opportunity to express true consent. With the worldwide pornography industry worth $97 billion — its success largely attributed to its addictive nature — traffickers have an incentive to continue using victims for continued economic profit.
Even more startling is the growing success of online child pornography consumption. Of those who view child pornography, between 40-80% have in fact molested a minor themselves. Further research concludes 66-90% of women used to create pornographic material were victims of sexual abuse at some point during their childhood. This connection between childhood abuse and increased likelihood of being sex trafficked for pornographic material in the future draws attention to the crisis our society faces in protecting children from this evil.
3. Current U.S. Border Policy Is Enabling Human Traffickers
It is estimated upwards of 72% of all human trafficking victims in the U.S. are immigrants, many of which are transported across the border between the U.S. and Mexico. With the current status of the border, many girls, some as young as 14, are abducted prior to their arrival at the border then smuggled across to perform sex acts at a price. Approximately 60% of children who enter the U.S. illegally and unaccompanied are caught by cartel members and used in the production of child pornography.
In terms of the legislative process, the issues of illegal immigration and human trafficking are generally dealt with separately to pass bipartisan legislation more easily. The recently passed version of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act grants unaccompanied minors “special accommodations, such as expedited processing and benefits.” Unfortunately, these opportunities provided to unaccompanied minors incentivize minors to cross the border, ultimately creating minimal restrictions and increased opportunities for cartels to seize these children. To effectively address human trafficking in the U.S., we must also take measures to address rampant illegal border crossings, especially when unaccompanied minors are involved.
4. God Cares Deeply about Those Trapped in Slavery
In “Sound of Freedom,” Tim Ballard’s character successfully catches a pedophile attempting to traffic a child in a sting operation. The film’s representation of these real-world scenarios rightfully creates a stomach-churning reaction. Witnessing the cruelty of humanity in this way draws us to John 3:19: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” It’s a verse that naturally comes to mind when confronted with the evil of child exploitation. In this industry that so overtly disregards the value of human life — especially that of a child — let us remember that they reside in the darkness. For our fight is not against earthly foes, but it is “against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). That is why we should make every effort to administer justice to those in need and to deliver them from the wickedness of this fallen world (Psalm 82:3-4).
Human trafficking of those of any age is an assault on the human dignity of women and men and girls and boys made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). We are right to be grieved by news of human trafficking and to seek justice for those who are oppressed (Isaiah 1:17).
5. You Can Be a Part of the Solution
If you feel a burden to make a difference on behalf of victims of human trafficking, a first step you can take is learning more about what the current challenges are. Then pray about what God might be calling you to do in your daily life. That may be donating to an organization that fights human trafficking, researching your states’ anti-trafficking laws and encouraging local leaders to make them stronger if needed, or praying with your small group from church.
For more on what you can do to fight trafficking, visit the National Center on Sexual Exploitation’s resources page. It includes action steps like how you can report suspected trafficking, how to upload images of your hotel room to a national database, and more.
Elected representatives at the state or federal level will often not prioritize an issue unless they think that their constituents are prioritizing it. Sharing information about human trafficking on social media, encouraging friends to see the “Sound of Freedom” movie, and telling your representatives you want to see more action done on fight human trafficking can all go a long way towards calling attention to human trafficking.
A quote often attributed to Mother Teresa reminds us, “I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.” We all can play a part in building momentum to address this evil.
Arielle Del Turco is Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council, and co-author of “Heroic Faith: Hope Amid Global Persecution.”
EDITORS NOTE: This Washington Stand column is republished with permission. All rights reserved. ©2023 Family Research Council.
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