COVID-19 has stolen more from us than we can ever measure in lost lives and livelihoods. Years from now, our children will continue to suffer from the effects of prolonged learning loss—and, sadly, that is just the beginning.
According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), reports to its CyberTipline increased 106% between March 2019 and the same month this year. Since the shutdowns began, criminal justice experts have warned that school closures and the cancellation of sports and other activities would lead to a spike in child abuse. Without these structures in place, children are more likely to remain in abusive situations. What’s more, with parents working from home, young people are often left to their own devices, spending hours on online, where they’re at greater risk of interacting with sexual predators.
Even before COVID-19, child sexual abuse had grown into worldwide epidemic. This fall, a new feature film, Sound of Freedom, aims to bring greater awareness to the horrors of human trafficking, the world’s fastest-growing illegal business, which generates $150 billion annually, with almost 25 million people—mostly women and children—being trafficked each year.
Directed by Alejandro Monteverde and starring Jim Caviezel, the film chronicles the true story of Tim Ballard, a former special agent for the Department of Homeland Security, assigned to the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. While working undercover, Ballard infiltrates an organized human trafficking ring and ultimately quits his job to found Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.), a nonprofit that works with governments to infiltrate sex trafficking rings, rescue and rehabilitate victims and bring their perpetrators to justice. To date, O.U.R. has rescued over 4,000 survivors and assisted in the arrests of over 2,200 predators worldwide.
With the release of the film, O.U.R. is rolling out a joint fundraising effort with jewelry brand Love Grenades to bring greater awareness of child sex slavery and raise money to free more victims of trafficking. But what makes this partnership so unique is that the brand is selling a dog tag necklace similar to one featured in the film—and, strangely enough, the jewelry maker didn’t even realize it at first.
“We were familiar with O.U.R.’s mission and wanted to support the cause in a meaningful way,” said Annmarie D’Ercole, designer and co-founder of Love Grenades, a jewelry line that promotes positivity in our everyday lives. “Our dog tag is one of our most popular designs, and we thought we could raise the most money by donating a large portion from each sale. It was only later that we discovered that a dog tag necklace is also part of O.U.R.’s origin story.”
In the film, Ballard saves a five-year-old boy from sex trafficking. The boy’s older sister had given him the dog tag necklace—which was inscribed with scripture and the words “Man of God”— when they were both in captivity, as a sign of hope that they would one day be free. Later in the film, after Ballard rescues the boy and attempts to return the necklace found at the crime scene, the boy tells him to keep it, knowing that his prayer had been answered. Years later, Ballard also discovered, miraculously, that his name was on the necklace (the scripture was from 1 Timothy).
For Ballard, the necklace is a symbol of hope for the 2 million children around the world held captive as sex slaves and goes to the heart of O.U.R.’s mission.
“As a U.S. agent, I couldn’t rescue the vast majority of child sex slaves, which fall outside the purview of developed nations,” Ballard said. “Remembering the promise that I made to God and that boy, I left the government, recruited a team of America’s best and created Operation Underground Railroad. This necklace represents O.U.R.’s promise to those millions of children that they will be freed from slavery and that we will dedicate all we have to rescuing them.”
The tungsten carbide Sound of Freedom dog tags sell for $128—and Love Grenades will donate $50 to O.U.R. for each necklace sold. For every 30 necklaces, O.U.R. will be able to rescue one child from sex slavery plus provide all necessary aftercare.
Ballard views his necklace as a symbol of his calling to save children across the world. He’s now asking others to embrace their own calling, be abolitionists and join the O.U.R. team to help rescue more children by purchasing their own dog tag necklace at www.freedomdogtag.com.