US anti-child trafficking activist resigns after sexual harassment allegations

The anti-child slavery activist Tim Ballard, whose work was dramatized in the movie Sound of Freedom, resigned from the Operation Underground Railroad (Our) organization he founded amid allegations he sexually harassed colleagues, it was reported on Monday.

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Ballard, a former adviser to the Trump administration on child sexual trafficking, who is reported to be exploring a run for a US senate seat in Utah, resigned abruptly from the group in June for then-unknown reasons.

But the online media outlet Vice reported on Monday that the ultra-conservative figure, an alleged QAnon conspiracy theorist, resigned after Our launched a sexual misconduct investigation against him involving at least seven women.

According to the report, Ballard invited female staff and volunteers to accompany him on overseas missions playing the role of his wife, then would coerce them into sharing his bed or showering together by telling them it was necessary to fool traffickers.

Vice said it had spoken with many of the women. One, it said, received photographs of Ballard in only his underwear, showing off a number of fake tattoos; another was asked “how far she was willing to go” to save enslaved children.

In a statement sent to the Guardian, Our said Ballard was “permanently separated” from the organization he founded in 2013, but would not comment on the specific allegations.

“Our is dedicated to combatting sexual abuse, and does not tolerate sexual harassment or discrimination by anyone in its organization,” it said.

“[We] retained an independent law firm to conduct a comprehensive investigation of all relevant allegations, and Our 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, Our will not make any further public comment at this time.”

Ballard, who investigated child sexual trafficking as a special agent for the Department of Homeland Security, (DHS) was portrayed in Sound of Freedom by the actor Jim Caviezel, whose own repetition of QAnon theories earned condemnation from the movie’s director Alejandro Monteverde.

Despite being a surprise summer hit at the box office, Sound of Freedom was variously described as “QAnon adjacent” and “Maga-friendly” by critics, using the Make America great again slogan favored by supporters of former president Donald Trump.

On Friday, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) issued its own condemnation of Ballard, saying it was “morally unacceptable” to use the name of the Mormon church’s president, M Russell Ballard, to promote personal and financial interests.

The two, although unrelated, struck up a friendship that ended when Tim Ballard, a Mormon and former member of the church, betrayed it “for personal advantage”, LDS said in a statement.

“President Ballard never authorized his name, or the name of the Church, to be used for Tim’s personal or financial interests. In addition, [LDS] never endorsed, funded, supported or represented Our, Tim Ballard, or any projects associated with them.”