Tim Ballard’s exit from Operation Underground Railroad earlier this year followed an investigation into claims of sexual misconduct involving seven women, according to sources with direct knowledge of the organization.
Sources familiar with the situation said that the self-styled anti-slavery activist, who appears to be preparing for a Senate run, invited women to act as his “wife” on undercover overseas missions ostensibly aimed at rescuing victims of sex trafficking. He would then allegedly coerce those women into sharing a bed or showering together, claiming that it was necessary to fool traffickers. Ballard, who was played by Jim Caviezel in the hit film Sound of Freedom, is said to have sent at least one woman a photo of himself in his underwear, festooned with fake tattoos, and to have asked another “how far she was willing to go,” in the words of a source, to save children. These sources requested anonymity because they fear retaliation.
The total number of women involved is believed to be higher than seven, as that would only account for employees, not contractors or volunteers. One source close to OUR has detailed knowledge of Ballard making sexual advances to a volunteer using methods similar to those he allegedly used with OUR employees. Those methods are also consistent with his conduct toward another former volunteer who spoke to VICE News.
In response to a detailed request for comment, a spokesperson for Operation Underground Railroad told VICE News:
Tim Ballard resigned from O.U.R. on June 22, 2023. He has permanently separated from O.U.R.
O.U.R. is dedicated to combatting sexual abuse, and does not tolerate sexual harassment or discrimination by anyone in its organization.
O.U.R. retained an independent law firm to conduct a comprehensive investigation of all relevant allegations, and O.U.R. continues to assess and improve the governance of the organization and protocols for its operations.
To preserve the integrity of its investigation and to protect the privacy of all persons involved, O.U.R. will not make any further public comment at this time.
O.U.R. is confident in its future as the leading organization committed to combatting sex trafficking and saving children who have been captured and sold into slavery.
The information from the sources with direct knowledge of OUR corroborates an anonymous letter that’s been circulating in the Utah philanthropic community for the past several months, which accuses Ballard of sexual harassment. VICE News first reported on the letter in July; the journalist Lynn Packer published it in full on Sunday.
“Several weeks ago, an OUR employee who accompanied Tim on an undercover operation filed a sexual harassment complaint against him with OUR’s HR department,” the letter, which was sent this summer to donors to anti-trafficking causes, reads. “This resulted in an extensive internal investigation into Tim and his individual operational tactics and led to more women speaking up as part of the investigation process.
“It was ultimately revealed through disturbingly specific and parallel accounts, that Tim has been deceitfully and extensively grooming and manipulating multiple women for the past few years with the ultimate intent of coercing them to participate in sexual acts with him, under the premise of going where it takes and doing ‘whatever it takes’ to save a child.”
The letter further said that OUR’s board and lawyers had made agreements preventing executives from discussing the circumstances of Ballard’s exit from the organization he founded, making it “virtually impossible for them to defend the organization against Tim’s false narratives.” The author or authors of the letter did not respond to requests for comment. An OUR spokesperson did not dispute what was in the letter when asked about it by VICE News In July, or respond further when told that reporters could only take this as confirmation of its accuracy.
Women believed to be at the center of the investigation have not responded to requests for comment, or have declined to comment. People who know them say they fear retaliation and the effects scandal could have on OUR as it seeks to move on without Ballard—whom sources say is currently trying to work his way back into the organization.
Ballard did not respond to requests for comment submitted through his personal website; that of his new organization, the SPEAR Fund; and through a spokesperson whom OUR previously told VICE News is his personal representative.
Ballard, an ally of Donald Trump—he held an appointed post on a public-private anti-trafficking council in the Trump administration, and recently hosted the former president on his podcast—has said he’s strongly considering a run for the Senate seat set to be vacated by Mitt Romney. Speculation in the LDS community indicates that he’s planning to announce his bid on October 10. Last week, a spokesperson for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement to VICE News that contained a pointed rebuke of Ballard. The statement accused Ballard of inappropriately using the name of a church elder, President M. Russell Ballard—the two are not related, despite sharing a last name—“for Tim Ballard’s personal advantage and activity regarded as morally unacceptable.”
The church did not specify in its statement what activity it regarded as “morally unacceptable.”
Over the weekend, Ballard responded to VICE News’ reporting by giving an impassioned speech to a small crowd in Boston in which he said, “It’s not true, nothing you hear is true.” He also said he outright did not believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints condemned him in a statement issued to VICE News—something that did in fact happen, as has been confirmed by multiple Utah news outlets.
Update, September 19:
In a statement dated September 18, 2023 and issued through the SPEAR Fund, Tim Ballard denied the sexual misconduct allegations, calling them “baseless.” His full statement is below:
As with all of the assaults on my character and integrity over many years, the latest tabloid-driven sexual allegations are false. They are baseless inventions designed to destroy me and the movement we have built to end the trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable children.
“During my time at O.U.R., I designed strict guidelines for myself and our operators in the field. Sexual contact was prohibited, and I led by example. Given our meticulous attention to this issue, any suggestion of inappropriate sexual contact is categorically false.”
The Spear Fund strongly encourages journalists to watch this recent episode of the highly-respected Marisol Nichols Podcast, which offers specific context around the child rescue operations process: https://youtu.be/xo6-tdafK6k?si=iVbHc1MhTdumsGan
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