Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute

The Sound of Freedom Rings Right Here in Northwest Ohio

I saw the movie “Sound of Freedom” last weekend. This is the American story we love to tell in which the American guy, once again, saves the world; aka, a repeat of the original movie “Taken”. And by whom, you ask? The American man, of course. The writers admit that this is a highly fictional tale with some truth embedded into the story. The problem with “highly fictionalized” is that it steers Americans in the wrong direction. Wrongheaded thinking increases the risk to our children right here in Northwest Ohio.  

Think about almost every cop movie or fictional show you have watched. Ever notice how they have to break the law to get the job done? For instance, they get the “perp” inside the interrogation room where they violate his rights by threatening him, beating him, or whatever it takes, because after all they have to break the law to do the job. “Go ahead make my day,” Clint Eastwood said so he could legally commit the murder he so desperately wants to commit as we cheer him on. What these stories tell you is that the laws we have in place don’t work and will never work. We have to take the law into our own hands. And we wonder why some people unjustifiably get shot by law enforcement– some people of color. Anyway, I digress….

The Sound of Freedom is similar. The underlying premise is that we can’t get the job done following the laws we have in place. Instead of working with governments and nonprofit anti-trafficking programs that already exist in various countries, we have to solve the problem with our own two hands. Tim Ballard, portrayed by Jim Caviezel who previously starred as Jesus in the movie “The Passion of the Christ”, is compelled to go against his sworn duty to go into another country and rescue children because the existing resources won’t work or theoretically don’t exist. And admittedly, Operation Underground Railroad, the program that movie is based on, reported initially they didn’t know what to do once children were rescued.

I cried in the movie, because children were being abused and I wanted those children to be rescued and I wanted those traffickers and customers to pay. But understand that this movie presents a very skewed portrayal of sex trafficking. In the movie the victims are presented as 5 to 12 years old. In reality, the average child victim is between 14-16 years old. In the movie, wealthier men travel outside of the country to sexually abuse these children. In reality, pedophilia (a preference for young children) is a component of sex trafficking; however, a larger component involves the trafficking of older teens along with adult women and men.

In reality, most of the progress made on this issue has been done thanks in large part to the women across the U.S. and around the world. For example, in the U.S. when more females are seated as state legislators, more comprehensive human trafficking laws are passed. And it is the social workers, health care providers, and criminal justice professionals that are working day-in and day-out to investigate and prosecute traffickers and to help victims heal from their trauma. Much like Tim Ballard, upon which the movie is based, they put their lives on the line with some suffering from vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue as a result. What they do each day isn’t in the spotlight or shown on a 30-foot screen with surround sound as “Jesus”, from the “Passion of the Christ”, saves victims. They do it without the glory and without the $500,000 a year salary that Tim Ballad was making before he recently stepped away from the organization that the movie is based upon.

Don’t be fooled by a story that tells you that trafficking only happens “over there” and that the main answer is to rescue children. When “rescue” is your only response, there will be an endless supply of victims. In reality, we can and do work smarter as we work across collaborations and with governmental and nongovernmental entities.

Don’t be taken in by a story that brings you to tears, you finish your popcorn, donate your money, and go on with your day feeling satisfied that people like “Operation Underground Railroad” are on the job. Sex trafficking happens around the world and also in your community. There are an estimated 1,000 youth in Ohio on any given day that become victims of sex trafficking. Toledo sees and serves a large number of youth and adults who have been victims of sex trafficking and labor trafficking we need your support right here, right now.

Turn those tears you weep for children into action. Here are your options: You can join Northwest Ohio REACH, which is our regional anti-human trafficking coalition, Visit their website and donate to their Emergency Survivor Fund to assist survivors right here. You can donate to REACH who will vet and ensure your funds are spent on credible programming and in responsible ways. It certainly won’t be spent on a $500,000 a year salary. You can donate to The University of Toledo’s Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute, a world renown institute involved in cutting edge work on this issue. You can choose a local program that works with victims and donate your time or your money. Finally, you can attend our annual International Human Trafficking & Social Justice virtual Conference to learn more about human trafficking,

And remember, the actual sound of freedom isn’t on a movie screen. Freedom is rung every time a victim is able to leave a trafficking situation and gains the support to live a life of freedom and choice. That happens right here in Northwest Ohio.


Last Updated: 8/15/23