Culture

Review: 'The Abolitionists' Documentary Chronicles the Fight to Rescue the World's Children from Sexual Slavery

Last night I attended the Washington D.C. screening of a new documentary called “The Abolitionists.” The executive producer of the film is Academy Award winner Gerald R. Molen, who is best known for his films, “Schindler’s List” “Jurassic Park” “Rain Man” and many others.

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Above, Gerald Molen talks about the documentary in front of a picture of Abraham Lincoln that reads “Slavery did not end with Lincoln”

Molen was in attendance at the screening as were producers Darrin Fletcher and Chet Thomas as well as the subject of the documentary, Tim Ballard. The film chronicles the efforts of a group called Operation Underground Railroad (OUR) and its leader, Ballard. Ballard, a former CIA operative, left the Agency and now works exclusively for the organization he created, OUR, to rescue children who are victims of sex and human trafficking. The film documents three operations the group runs overseas to save these children and bring their abductors and traffickers to justice.

One of the most notable aspects of the evening was the support of the OUR mission by the Utah congressional delegation.  Operation Underground Railroad is based in Utah and the screening was attended by Utah’s Senator Orrin Hatch (R), Rep. Mia Love (R) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R). Also in attendance was Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and Former Congressman Allen West (R).

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Above, Utah political delegation supports Operation Underground Railroad and ‘The Abolitionists’.

The movie begins by introducing its hero, Tim Ballard and his team, including a pixilated source known only as “Batman.” Right away, the audience understands the situations we are about see are so dangerous, identities must be concealed. Ballard is portrayed as both tough and no-nonsense but also very human as he breaks down while describing the situations and horrors he has encountered during his career. We see his humanity when he  interacts with the children he has helped rescue.

The film unfolds following Ballard and his team working with foreign law enforcement to choreograph highly intricate operations in dangerous parts of the world with the hope that they can extricate the exploited child-prisoners from their criminal captors. And it is only hope that moves these missions forward, they do not all end in success the film makes clear.

One question I had while watching the film, was the extent to which the governments of these countries are complicit in the child-sex tourism industry. It’s hard to image that acquiring underage children for sex parties and various other things is so easy and wide-spread without powerful people turning their head. “Orphanages” selling children in broad daylight, how is that possible? The film is clear that OUR works in cooperation with local authorities, they are not vigilantes but it did make me reconsider, due to the subject matter, that a little vigilate-ism might go along way here.

The documentary exposes a world most Americans cannot conceive of: 12 and 13 year-old girls sold for a night of “bachelor party” fun and toddlers sold to strangers in casual transactions like negotiating at a flea market.  We meet some of the rescued children dealing with the after-affects of being kidnapped or even sold by family members into sexual slavery.  It’s clear these children will be haunted by their experiences for a long time as they attempt to fulfill their lives with the second chance that OUR has given them. The rescued children remain aspirational.

It’s a difficult, uncomfortable film to watch but it’s a hopeful film at the same time. I highly recommend you hit a theater to watch, don’t wait for the DVD release if you are lucky enough to find a theater showing the film.

Watch the trailer for the film: