Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.) is a US-based non-profit foundation founded in 2013 by Tim Ballard and a team of former US Government operatives. O.U.R. was created for the express purpose of rescuing children around the world from sex trafficking and exploitation.
Since its foundation, O.U.R. has gathered a team of experts in extraction operations and in anti-child trafficking efforts to bring an end to child slavery. O.U.R. has made a significant impact, rescuing and supporting over four thousand survivors in 28 countries and 26 U.S. states.
What’s in the name?
The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes and safe houses established in the United States during the early to mid 19th century. They were used by African American slaves to escape into free states and Canada with the aid of abolitionists and allies who were sympathetic to their cause. The original Underground Railroad was a group that acted and infiltrated.
Taking a stand
Tim Ballard founded Operation Underground Railroad after spending over a decade working as a Special Agent for the Department of Homeland Security assigned to the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force and deployed as an undercover operative for the U.S. Child Sex Tourism Jump Team. During his time he was part of successfully dismantled dozens of child slave & trafficking organizations and rescued countless children from slavery and exploitation. Ballard saw that although many agencies were focused on the criminal networks, very few organisations dedicated themselves to the rescue and direct extraction of the victims. O.U.R. works to fill this void, as well as working with law enforcement agencies to capture and prosecute the captors.
Rescuing children is only part of the story, O.U.R. has committed itself to the journey of supporting survivors in their healing process, and partners with a range of organizations, safe homes and vetted aftercare centres around the world. The key to success has been trusting in the local people and their expertise to determine the needs of the children within their own community. O.U.R. actively works with individual centres to assess upcoming rescues and the predicted needs, such as additional social workers or medical professionals. Watch Director of Aftercare, Jessica Mass, tell the story of the aftercare process.
With adoption being considered a potential preventative measure against child trafficking, in 2020 Tim’s and his wife Katherine Ballard founded the project “Children Need Families” (CNF) in response to the question “What do children need?”? CNF works with adoption agencies, orphanages and adoptive families worldwide to help support people through the notoriously laborious and expensive adoption process. Tim & Katherine experienced this first-hand through an emotionally and financially draining struggle to adopt two children from Haiti.