While everyone was focused on the release of the classics summer movie hits like Barbie, the film Sound of Freedom was screened for the first time in the US on the 4th of July.
The movie introduction highlights it is based on a true story, directed and co-written by Alejandro Monteverde, produced by Eduardo Verástegui and eventually released by Angel Studios. Not even two weeks from the release of the movie have passed and the theories as well as the opinions on it, its characters, its distribution seem to be countless both on social media and on the news.
In the story, Jim Caviezel, interpreting Tim Ballard, is a fighter who aims to save kidnapped minors from commercial sexual exploitation traffickers on an island in Colombia. The main character quit his job as a Special Agent for the Homeland Security Investigations (HIS) in order to rescue the children. Thus, in a context in which another agent, commenting on the status quo of their work states “it’s a messed-up world”. It is on this stand that Jim Caviezel goes to Colombia to rescue a brother and a sister who have been seized by a woman in the vest of a model scout.
What is surely very disappointing for us, international professionals working for Protection4kids, and experts on the fight against child sex trafficking and sexual exploitation around the globe for many years, is that we believe that the people are losing an occasion to further discuss the transnational crime occurring every year, causing millions of victims around the world, focusing instead on the gossip around it. In fact, commercial sexual exploitation, human trafficking, child sexual abuse material and son preference culture have always tended to be topics that the people preferred not to pay attention to, as it is labelled ‘too macabre’ or ‘shocking’. What we have proved is that the people who are willing to improve their knowledge on these topics it is either because one of their family members or friends became victim of such atrocities. However, it is needless to state, that this mentioned time it is usually too late.
What seems to be shifting the attention of the people from the issue of child sex trafficking and sexual exploitation, and causing a political stir is the connection to the facts that both Ballard and Jim Caviezel have expressed openness to QAnon or similar conspiracy theories in the past. In fact, as highlighted by Forbes, Ballard previously appeared open to a debunked theory that Wayfair was selling minors.
Moreover, Caviezel spoke in numerous QAnon events where he promoted the adrenochrome conspiracy theory. Additionally, the plot of the movie is connected to the work carried out by the organization that Ballard founded in 2013, named Operation Underground Railroad (OUR), which has been criticized for some of its claims and tactics, with some critics stating that the organization exaggerates its successes. It is well known that according to the Deseret News, the Davis County Attorney’s Office spent more than two years investigating OUR for alleged communications fraud, witness tampering and retaliation. However, even though the investigations ended with no charges in May, Jim Cavaziel has suddenly parted ways with the organization he funded.
The film, based on a true story, seems to have the primary aim to raise awareness about a reality that is much closer to us than we think, and the need to pursue a fight against such hideous crimes. Indeed, the way the children are “recruited” and treated is a very true and sad reality, as well as the indifference of law enforcement institutions driven by politics or lack of resources to operate transnationally.
However, the media and social media reactions miss the chance to improve people’s knowledge about the topic by highlighting the gossip and restraining from mentioning updated data and information on these crimes, as well as interviewing experts so as to raise awareness on how for example, according to the US Department of Justice the grooming of sexual slaves from 2010 until nowadays is shifted for the 84% online.
The Research Study of Protection4kids highlights the results of its latest research which shows that 94% of interviewed minors from 12 to 17 years old admitted to having access to at least one social media profile such as Instagram, Facebook, Omegle or Tik Tok, on a daily basis.
Human traffickers are extremely updated with nowadays society and they are perfectly aware of these figures and facts. They do know that it is statistically proven that it is 97% likely that you that are reading this article and have at least one social media profile.
This is why since 2010 we have conducted numerous research projects and investigations which prove how traffickers have started to use social media to firstly stalk the potential targeted minor victims, thus, studying their potential victims by carefully scanning and checking their posts, bios, comments and shared information and details; thus, identifying the most vulnerable victims,and creating through another social media profile the environment of trust.
It is also shocking and sad how these crimes rise in emergency contexts. For example, in the past year of war in Ukraine, indeed, we have recorded an alarming intensification of cases of child sexual abuse material, risk of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of minors. In fact, on this concern, for example, according to Europol, on 23 May 2022, an EMPACT coordinated online joint action day targeted criminal networks grooming Ukrainian refugees for sexual and labor exploitation via websites and social media platforms. For example, this occurs through fake offers of hosting refugees civilians, in particular women and children hit by the conflict.
We of Protection4kids have ben incessantly working for over four years and investigating both the surface as well as the deep and dark web against human traffickers and commercial sexual exploitation of children as well as child sexual abuse material production and dissemination. We recently conducted an investigation which identified 128 perpetrators committing the above mentioned crimes. We of Protection4kids have now intensified our efforts and commitments on this front, initiating an intense investigation action with several experts on the matter.
What surely did not surprise us are the declarations that were made in the difficulty encountered in marketing and financing the movie of Sound of Freedom. Indeed, not only according to Europol the crime of human trafficking it is the fastest growing crime in the world, but also according to ILO, it is a crime which creates a business of over 150 billions per year. To make you understand, we are referring to a business which in tangible terms, creates more profit than the joint one created by Facebook, Disneyland and Nike.
We as Protection4Kids strongly believe in the power of spreading knowledge, raising awareness, and recounting people’s true stories via forms of art such as film making. This is because it is only through knowledge and collective action that transnational crimes can be effectively prevented and perpetrators brought to justice.
Written by Annachiara Sarto, Laura Ferri, Ludovica Carron, Giulia Pozzobon