‘Sound of Freedom’ Is Stirring Hearts to Help Victims of Sex Trafficking

Rousing people from ignorance and apathy, the film is doing much more than smashing box-office records, as audience members feel compelled to act.

After rescuing a young boy from ruthless child traffickers, a federal agent learns the boy’s sister is still captive and decides to embark on a dangerous mission to save her.
After rescuing a young boy from ruthless child traffickers, a federal agent learns the boy’s sister is still captive and decides to embark on a dangerous mission to save her. (photo: Courtesy photo / Angel Studios)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Through the Sisters of Mary, more than 21,000 children from six countries are annually provided care and education at World Villages’ Boystowns and Girlstowns to prevent and in some cases save them from human trafficking.

The scourge of such trafficking is insidious. 

“A few days ago, at lunch in Mexico, I was speaking with three graduates of the Girlstown communities, who each revealed firsthand accounts of sex slavery,” Kevin Wells, vice president of public relations for World Villages, told the Register.

“One told me she recently went to visit a friend in the state of Chiapas, Mexico. Her friend’s father routinely visited a notorious bar-like setting where small children performed sexual acts on him and other men. She said most people in the town knew about the bar, including local politicians and police, but would do nothing to shut it down,” he continued. “The violence of poverty has intensified sex slavery and trafficking in the poor countries where the sisters work.”

The need to combat such horrors makes Sound of Freedom, the new hit movie based on a true story, timely, shining light on the dark world of child sex trafficking.

“The movie gripped me from the beginning,” said Wells.

“I guess I would classify it as a thriller, but it was far more because it cast light on a third-rail topic that has been mostly untouched by the media, politicians and the Catholic Church,” he said.

“Some scenes were difficult to watch, but thank God the producers and actors held up this evil for the world to see. Sound of Freedom merely scrapes the surface of the sick underworld; the hope is that a galvanizing force can begin to attack this demonic strain amongst us. Sadly, this darkness has spread everywhere in America, where men have become the ‘purchasers’ and ‘users.’”

And that’s why the work at World Villages, which has helped more than 150,000 children and their families break free from poverty, is imperative. 

“The Sisters of Mary save the poorest children in the world from the violence of poverty, helping restore the bodies and souls of children and send them out as high-school graduates,” Wells said. Wells’ best-selling book Priest and Beggar: The Heroic Life of Venerable Aloysius Schwartz tells the story of its founding.

Wells has met many hundreds of children in the Boystown and Girlstown communities, gathered by the Sisters of Mary, who, two by two, ascend the most dangerous places in the world. 

“Shoulder to shoulder, they walk narrow paths to get to the oppressed villages that house the most vulnerable boys and girls in the world. Sisters have been kidnapped and held up at gunpoint. To date, none have been mortally harmed. God is with them, they say, on these blood trails,” Wells said.

Wells is not alone in his assessment of the new movie and its needed message.

Heartbreaking!
It was sold out, but I’ll try again.
 It motivated me to pray more to protect the children and people being trafficked. 


Those are some of the comments from interviews with moviegoers seeing Sound of Freedom. It is rousing people from ignorance and apathy and making news at the box office. With a production budget of $14.5 million and only playing in 2,634 theaters, it brought in $11.69 million on its July 4 opening and outperformed all other movies that day, including overtaking Disney’s new Indiana Jones, which had a budget of $295 million and played in 4,600 theaters. As of July 19, the film had generated more than $90 million in gross revenue.

The goal was to raise awareness about the 2 million children exploited every year in international sex trafficking. Jim Caviezel, known for The Passion of the Christ and The Count of Monte Cristo, plays Tim Ballard, the real-life hero who quit his job as a Homeland Security agent to embark on a dangerous journey through the jungles of Colombia to save children being trafficked.

“It is so necessary for everyone to watch this film and support it. Not only was it so artistically and beautifully produced, but it’s the mission and advocacy message behind it. It’s not like anything that’s been done before,” Cheri Ballinger, a Hollywood veteran, told the Register.

A devout Catholic, Ballinger was the executive producer of Roe v. Wade, the 2021 film that recounted the backstory of the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion nationwide. She knows Caviezel personally and supports Ballard, who founded Operation Underground Railroad to rescue children.

“Now, more people can see what Ballard and his foundation have done and what they stand for,” she said.

When asked what moved her most about the film, Ballinger pointed to Caviezel’s portrayal of Ballard. “For me, Jim’s performance and intensity he brings to the character as he portrays Tim Ballard is all the more moving because he is a real person who is still working. He’s not someone from the past,” she said. “We can read what Tim Ballard is doing today. Jim’s beautiful performance made me cry.”

“It’s not a Disney movie. It’s a heavy movie. The subject was heavy. I was in tears; it’s that moving. For many reasons, and not just that one, it’s going to hit you in the heart,” Ballinger added.

Ballinger was asked whether Sound of Freedom represents a change in Hollywood. “What we’re seeing now is a pendulum shift,” she said. “The audience and public are craving truth. We’ve gone so far to the other side, and I think people are waking up and want the truth and see it in film. Film is a powerful tool, if used for the right reasons. This film embodies that,” she said. As to how film can make changes, she pointed to the Roe v. Wade film she co-produced and the subsequent Dobbs Supreme Court decision on abortion, saying: “People do tend to say, ‘There’s no hope.’ No, no, there’s always hope. And film is powerful in this.”

“As Catholics, we have a duty to protect all children, to protect all life, which goes back to being pro-life, to protecting all stages of life. Children are the most vulnerable among us. It’s so imperative for Catholics to proudly rise up and say, ‘We’re part of the Church that Christ founded. It’s our duty to protect his children.’ I love what Jim has been saying, ‘God’s children are not for sale!’”

“We’ve lost this message in society. We’re all children of God. As members of one, holy, apostolic Church, we have to defend life and children,” she emphasized.

 

 

‘Today’s Greatest Evil’

Jay Weingarten, a fundraiser for the Maryknoll Fathers, said in an interview he was moved to tears by Sound of Freedom. He and his wife, Angela, watched it in Clearwater, Florida, along with the crowd at a sell-out showing.

“The movie was outstanding; it met my expectations tenfold,” he said. “Let’s get this known,” he continued. “There are kids sweating and dying right now in cargo containers” on ships headed to uncertain destinations. As for his emotions while watching the film, Weingarten said, “I had tears in my eyes, even more than with The Passion of the Christ. There is a difference between the two, because we know that Christ wins in the end. But with this film, we had no clue how it was going to end.”

“My favorite part of the film, stated throughout the movie, was that ‘God’s children are not for sale.’ They’re not slaves,” said Angela Weingarten, who added that some trafficked children are violated 15 times a night.

Noted bilingual Catholic evangelist Jesse Romero, who is also a retired Los Angeles deputy sheriff, said after watching the film, “The movie showed me it was just a microcosm of an international problem. I remember that, years ago, there were children’s faces on milk cartons. It all makes sense now.”

“One of the things that pained me, because my parents are from Mexico, is that Mexico is the largest exporter of child sex trafficking in the world,” Romero said.

“What also pained me, as a proud American, is that the United States is the largest consumer of child sex trafficking. That’s painful to swallow. But it makes sense because our country has abandoned its Christian morals,” he said. “What I learned from the film is that human trafficking is a $150-billion business in which politicians and political parties are involved. This movie highlights this international, diabolical problem.”

For Catholics motivated to take action, Wells encouraged supporting World Villages and reaching out to clergy to help continuing action by the U.S. bishops, who have an anti-human-trafficking campaign. “Write, call, or set up a meeting with your local bishop and urge him to have the USCCB begin to steer far more of its money to truly begin to attack human trafficking,” he said. “It is the world’s greatest evil. Sadly, it seems to me, the Church’s voice has been mostly muted as a countervailing force against this evil underworld. We know what Christ said about millstones and the least of these. Does this dynamic also include those who remain mostly silent in the face of today’s greatest evil?”

Others moved by the film offered more suggestions for responding to the evil it portrays.

Pro-life activist and retired teacher Bob Pawson from Tucson, Arizona, noted that while the movie helps break the silence on human trafficking, the abortion industry intersects with it. He pointed out that the tagline from the movie — “God’s children are not for sale” — extends to the fact that Planned Parenthood sells aborted baby parts.

“It is important for those fighting against sex trafficking to show up outside of nearby abortion facilities. Many trafficked girls are brought in for abortions. By doing so, they can actually save trafficked women and girls locally as well as those in far-off lands thousands of miles away.” he said. “Your mission field is a lot nearer to home than you know. Sex-trafficked women are desperate for you to rescue them as they are dragged into the abortuaries in your town.”

Barb Plum from Bismarck, North Dakota, went early with her husband to get a seat and watched the local theater fill up for a recent showing.

“Viewers were silent,” she said. “There were no whispers or candy boxes rattling. The subject is heartrending. God bless Tim Ballard and all the angels who helped him fulfill his mission. I can’t say I loved it, because it broke my heart, but I can say it is probably one of the most powerful films I’ve seen in my life. I’m praying it gets seen by every adult in the world. I’m praying it can shine a bright light on the darkness of child trafficking and bring an end to people getting away with it.”

Moviegoer Cathy Gilmore of St. Louis said after seeing the film: “Evil triumphs when it hides in the shadows. Shout it from the rooftops: ‘God’s children are not for sale!’ If you have ever used porn, stop now. Tell everyone to stop.”

“Pray in groups, and pray very specific prayers,” Gilmore added. “Dear God, protect the innocence of our children. Free the children who are enslaved and abused. Restore the hearts and souls of children who have been harmed.”

Resources

Here are some Catholic resources to prevent and heal victims of trafficking: 

Sovereign Order of Malta Ambassador Against Human Trafficking

WorldVillages.org

Metanoia-inc.org Metanoia Manor in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, serves girls recovering from sex trafficking. You can also email founder Father Jeff Bayhi at [email protected].

Children of the Immaculate Heart offers a housing and rehabilitation program for adult women and their children.

Anti-Trafficking Program of the USCCB

Coalition of Catholic Organizations Against Human Trafficking:

Deb O’Hara Ruskowski, member of the Order of Malta is heading up a effort converting a Catholic rectory in the Boston Archdiocese into a safe house for women and is encouraging Catholic dioceses to donate property for safe homes.

Archbishop Hubertus van Megen celebrates the episcopal consecration of Father John Kiplimo Lelei as auxiliary bishop of Kenya’s Diocese of Eldoret on May 25, 2024.

Nuncio in Kenya: Church in Europe is Losing ‘its Inner Compass’

The Nairobi-based Vatican diplomat, who has also been representing the Holy Father in South Sudan, highlighted the need to seek God’s mercy as important and implored: “Let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”