A film exposing the horrific reality of the multibillion-dollar child sex trafficking industry—one of the fastest-growing organized crime activities in the world—is becoming an unexpected summer success following a strong Independence Day opening. But the movie almost never made it into theaters.
“Sound of Freedom” is an intense drama based on the true story of Tim Ballard, who quit his job as a federal agent busting pedophiles, pornographers, and child sex traffickers so he could rescue children from sex slavery in Colombia.
The film premiered as the top-grossing movie at the box office on July 4, taking in $14 million, and collected what Variety calls an “impressive” $41 million after six days of release.
Although the subject matter is disturbing, “Sound of Freedom” contains no explicit scenes or profanity. It even ends on a hopeful note that increasing awareness can propel a movement to stop the global epidemic of selling children for sex.
The film’s message is resonating with Texas audiences.
“This just may be THE most powerful movie we have EVER seen,” said Fort Worth residents Mona and Vince Puente. “The magnitude of this evil is absolutely overwhelming. We must all do our part to save these precious, precious children.”
Actor Jim Caviezel, who portrays Ballard in the film, speaks a line that has quickly become a mantra for anti-trafficking advocates: “God’s children are not for sale.”
Yet children are sold for sex every day, in every country and in every state in the U.S.
Pedophiles’ demand for sex with children has resulted in child sex trafficking accounting for more than half of human trafficking cases prosecuted in the United States.
In 2016, an estimated 79,000 minors were victims of sex trafficking in Texas.
Worldwide, an estimated 2 million children are trafficked every year. Many are sold for sex by family members, often in exchange for drugs. Others are used for sex tourism, one of the real-life scenarios depicted in “Sound of Freedom.”
The filmmakers say the profit-driven human trafficking racket is now second only to the illegal drug trade.
“You can sell a bag of cocaine one time; a child, five to ten times a day,” Caviezel notes in the film.
In a postscript, Caviezel says that not enough people know this problem exists, and even fewer are willing to do anything about it.
He also said it took five years for “Sound of Freedom” to get into theaters.
It was completed in 2018 at 20th Century Fox, but Disney acquired Fox in 2019 and shelved the film for a year before releasing the rights back to producer Eduardo Verastegui, who shopped it for three years without success.
“Netflix passed. Amazon passed. Every studio was worried about losing money,” he said.
Then earlier this year, Angel Studios—which uses crowdfunding to support uplifting projects—agreed to distribute the film and released it independently.
In the meantime, Ballard has continued his child rescue operations.
After leaving his 12-year career as a special agent with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2013, Ballard founded Operation Underground Railroad, a nonprofit that works with law enforcement around the world to extract trafficked children from sexual exploitation and connects survivors with aftercare.
Ballard encourages people to see “Sound of Freedom” to understand a type of human trafficking that occurs worldwide, but notes that child sex trafficking is also an ever-increasing concern within the United States and that most trafficking happens through a manipulative grooming process.
“Predators are soccer coaches and trusted teachers, neighbors across the street, uncles and aunts,” he said. “It is vital for parents, young adults, teens, and children to know the signs of grooming so they can recognize when someone may have ill intent.”
“This movie is hard. But you should go anyway,” said Kristen Ethridge, an author and mom of three school-age children who lives in Collin County. “This movie is about things we don’t like to talk about. But you should go anyway. This movie is not the feel-good movie of the summer. But you should go anyway.”
Ethridge said her family supports Operation Underground Railroad and other organizations that protect kids and help victims, “because this work needs to be done.”
We aren’t all necessarily called to be on the front line, but we can all do something to help those who are out there.
This is pure evil in our world. More people and more children are in slavery today than when slavery was legal. This is a $150 billion industry. It needs to end.
Texas passed legislation this year to crack down on child sex traffickers, but easy access to an exploding volume of online child pornography drives demand and makes children more vulnerable to exploitation.
In a 2022 report, Texas officials tasked with preventing human trafficking said the “most obvious strategy for disrupting current demand is to prioritize investigations and prosecute buyers.”
“I believe we will be judged for what we do in this moment,” Ethridge said. “We can take a stand and be a voice for the voiceless in whatever way we are called to do so. Just do something. Start today.”