Sound of Freedom – A call for justice

How can it even happen that children become victims of a human trafficking ring? How far do people have to go to free these children? The film Sound of Freedom provides answers to these questions with the story of the lives of special agent Tim Ballard and the children Miguel and Rocío. The drama has been playing in Austrian cinemas since November 10, 2023, and turned out to be an unexpected worldwide box office success.

The film was released by Angel Studio, which also produces the hit series „The Chosen“, among others, and is based on a true story. The main character is American Tim Ballard, a husband, father of 9 and a special agent in a Homeland Security Investigations unit that focuses on arresting people who possess and distribute child pornography. After a colleague’s comment that the perpetrators will be punished, but not a single child will be rescued from the clutches of the distributors, Ballard wants to try to do just that. At the same time, a father of two children in Honduras is approached by a former beauty queen who offers him modeling contracts for his daughter and son. However, when the father goes to pick up the siblings from the first photo shoot, he finds only an empty room. His daughter, son and other children have been kidnapped and sold as sex objects. Tim Ballard manages to rescue the little boy by pretending to be a pedophile himself and intercepts him at the border crossing to the USA. The little boy, Miguel, has information that should help Tim free more children as Tim also learns that Miguel’s sister Rocío is still missing. The search for the sister takes Ballard to Colombia, where he quits his job because the agency is unable to support him financially. Ballard forms a team with Colombian police officers and a former cartel accountant, Vampiro, who made it his mission to save children from sex trafficking after a personal incident.
Through an undercover operation in which they pretend to need 54 children for the opening of a private hotel for selected guests, they manage to free the children and arrest the traffickers.

However, Rocío is not among the children, and they learn that she has been sold to a group of revolutionary forces located in an Amazonian area where flights are banned. Vampiro and Ballard go under another undercover operation by posing as volunteer doctors. They manage to free Rocío from the group’s clutches. Miguel and Rocío are brought back to Honduras and reunited with their father. In the end, Rocío sings a song she has sung several times before – her Sound of Freedom.

In the epilogue, lead actor James Caviezel explains that it took around five years for the film to be released at all. Initially, 20th Century Fox was acquired for distribution – but the film was then rejected due to their takeover of the Walt Disney Company. No studio was willing to take on the film. Through crowdfunding and the subsequent takeover of Angel Studio, the film did make it into cinemas and turned out to be a success. Despite this great success, reports about the film used terms such as „conspiracy blockbuster“, „controversial“ or „scandal“ and strongly politicized the film.

However, human and child trafficking is not a conspiracy theory, because according to estimates by the international organization O.U.R, which was founded by Tim Ballard, more than 49 million people worldwide are victims of human trafficking – that is more than five times the number of inhabitants of Austria. The relative scale of the problem must also be taken into account, as human trafficking is the second most profitable illegal industry in the United States of America after drug trafficking, with an estimated annual revenue of around 150 billion US dollars. The epilogue also reports that there are more people enslaved than ever before in human history, even though slavery is illegal today. The magnitude of the problem shows how important it is to do awareness work – whether with a film, a documentary or a blog post.

Although the film is set in the USA, Colombia and Honduras, it is also highly relevant to Austria, as human trafficking also takes place here. Austria’s geographical location is of particular importance, as it not only serves as a transit country for human traffickers, but also as a destination country. It is important to note here that human trafficking takes place across borders as well as within national borders. The focus of human trafficking is on the exploitation of human beings. The various forms of exploitation are sexual exploitation, labor exploitation, begging, the commission of crimes, or forced marriage. In 2021, the Federal Criminal Police Office identified 75 victims of human trafficking and 44 victims of cross-border prostitution trafficking.

The majority of those affected come from other EU member states such as Hungary, Romania and Moldova, while others are nationals of third countries such as Nigeria and Serbia. It should also be mentioned that victims have also been identified from Austria. As human trafficking is illegal, estimates of the number of victims are vague – the number of unreported cases is high. There are many international legal instruments in Austria to combat human trafficking. On a national level, the Task Force for Combating Human Trafficking was set up almost 20 years ago. Its main task is to draw up action plans and monitor their implementation. In addition, there are various Austrian organizations, exhibitions and conferences to raise awareness of this important issue.

Translated by Emily Schiffer

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