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What Anti-Trafficking Experts Think of the Hit Movie ‘Sound of Freedom’

In a field crowded with franchises like Indiana Jones, the unexpected box office success of the summer is a movie about child sex trafficking, Sound of Freedom. Based on the story of Operation Underground Railroad’s Tim Ballard, the small-budget film has earned $45 million since its July 4 release.

The movie tells the story of Ballard (Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus in 2004’s The Passion of the Christ) becoming frustrated with his work as a Department of Homeland Security agent arresting pedophiles. He wants to rescue the children being sex trafficked, but he says at one point, “Most of those kids are outside of the US.”

He quits his job and goes rogue to track down a brother and sister who have been trafficked, traveling to Mexico and Colombia. He and his assembled team try to set up an Epstein-style island sex club to entrap traffickers and rescue the children.

This isn’t an explicitly faith-filled film, aside from Ballard quoting Mark 9:42 (“It would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck …”) as he’s arresting a pedophile. The real Ballard is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

But the film has drawn a Christian audience concerned about trafficking. It is distributed by Angel Studios, the same company that distributed The Chosen (as of May, Lionsgate is now The Chosen’s distributor). Sound of Freedom had been dead in the water after its distributor Fox Latin America dropped it in 2019. But Ballard said in an interview with Fox News that he was visiting the set of The Chosen when he met Angel executives: “They made a deal in five days.”

In real life, Ballard’s anti-trafficking organization, Operation Underground Railroad (OUR), became known for the types of dramatic rescue operations depicted in the film. Ballard also runs the Nazarene Fund, which has rescued Yazidis and ran private airlift operations to rescue persecuted Afghans out of Afghanistan after the US military exit in 2021.

Staffers with experience in anti-trafficking ministries that CT interviewed recognize that this is a movie, so the story will be dramatized. But they want audiences to understand that a lot of anti-trafficking work in the US looks different from what’s in the film.

Prior to the film, organizations already encountered the idea among volunteers that they were going to go on dramatic rescues.

“We’re not taking doors down. We’re not taking people over our shoulder,” Jeff Shaw told CT. Shaw is the chief program officer for Frontline Response, a Christian anti-trafficking organization based in Atlanta that has operations in Georgia and Ohio. Shaw was “blown away” by the movie and is recommending it to people, but has caveats: “Even child trafficking victims that have been ‘taken,’ most of the time, they’re resistant to being rescued, because they’re not in that psychological space, either. So a big part of our trainings is deprogramming our volunteers into what their expectation should be about how people are going to respond to them, and what sex trafficking looks like.”

Read more at Christianity Today 

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