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  • Holly Timberlake, Ph.D.

The Sound of Freedom’s Impact: Reflections & Resources

Photo of outstretched woman's hand with doves. Photo credit:

I imagine you have now heard of this “blockbuster” film, Sound of Freedom, which dramatizes the work of an organization known as Operation Underground Rescue (OUR), featuring the efforts of Tim Ballard to free trafficked children sold internationally for all sorts of nefarious reasons with evil intent. In its 8th week, it has brough in more than $178 million from US theaters. Its international release is just now occurring, with only South Africa having released it last week. By September 1st it will have aired in Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, all South American countries and territories (it dramatizes a rescue they did in Colombia), the UK, Ireland and Spain.

Positive Effects of "The Sound of Freedom" Movie

We at FREA believe that the film has increased the world’s awareness of the reality of child trafficking in a way that makes it much more difficult for people to deny that such cruel and abhorrent international organized networks exist. We applaud the growing awareness of the reality of child trafficking, knowing that an informed public does not continue to turn a blind eye to the troubles in this world. That matters hugely. The world is waking up and what was hidden is now becoming increasingly revealed as the voices of the people have more outlets for expression…and more people are listening, knowing that the media is greatly distorting truth for corporate gain. People want more and more to know the truth of things, and trafficking is the ugliest truth of them all.

People have been deeply moved by the film, feel inspired and motivated for the experience of it. Some, like myself, have chosen not to watch it, knowing that it will trigger primary and secondary trauma (secondary trauma for therapists who help survivors heal). Because the issue is such an important one, I have learned as much as I can about the film and am using its presence to inform others.

Controversies Arising From the Film

Yet, the film is not without controversy in several areas. Those who have been working in the anti-trafficking world are among those who are the most concerned about the way the film distorts and disappears the far more prevalent work of helping free people from trafficking perpetrated by people known to the victims and may actually put more children in harm’s way.

Rolling Stone posted this article: “Why Anti-Trafficking Experts are Torching the Sound of Freedom,” which details some of the concerns through an interview with Erin Albright, an attorney active in anti-trafficking for over 15 years, and Teresa Huizar, CEO of the National Children’s Alliance. While the article ends with a quip against conspiracy theories, it is important to remember that the US government estimates that between 600,00 to 800,000 persons are trafficked across the US borders each year. It does take organized international networks to perform such actions. And yet, it is also true that the greatest number of people trafficked are captured through complex psychological grooming by people known to the victims.

Concerns About the Operation Underground Rescue Organization

Controversies also exist regarding OUR and their practices. Influencers are quick to spout alignment with QAnon (though this association is denied by everyone in the film and Tim Ballard himself).

While it is difficult to know how much of the money raised actually goes to rescue work (another concern), there is no doubt that the exposing of the ways sexuality is used for dark agendas of control, predation, and vile self-interest is a central part of the waking up of the world.

Understanding the Reality

One important note: often there is a disparity between the numbers law enforcement reports and service providers report. Know that not all, by any stretch, of survivors' report or file charges, so law enforcement only sees a fraction of the numbers of persons trafficked. Often law enforcement sees smaller numbers than anybody else tracking this data.

As a therapist who has worked with others who have experienced the most vile and base of perpetrators (not depicted in this film), I can attest that what can happen is beyond your imagination…and yet, it is also true that there is a continuum of banality when it comes to the actions of the perpetrators against the victims. It is wise to be apprised of what happens in our own communities regarding trafficking, and to make your communities safer for children and women, you might consider what you can do to help.

Yes, You Can Help Stop Human Trafficking!

What You Can Do:

If you or someone you know has been trafficked:

  • Please contact local anti-trafficking organizations to learn what resources are available. You might have to start with your local rape crisis center, which, if there isn’t an anti-trafficking organization, will be your best source for relevant information and assistance.

  • For very effective methods (emotional first aid) for intervening when you or a loved one is having an anxiety attack or significant emotional upheaval, you can refer to our videos here on the FREA site. R4R (Resources for Resilience) is a sister organization that has super easy to access somatic methods to treat emotion that is overwhelming in the moment.

  • When looking for a therapist to help you heal, please look for those who have experience in deep trauma work. Therapists who don’t aren’t likely to have the skill sets necessary to be safe and effective.

Become an Advocate

If you want to get involved in advocacy work:

The first thing that you can do is find out more about how Human Trafficking shows up in the United States (or your country), in your state, in your region, and in your community. Because it’s not like in the movie. Nor will it resemble the movie, Taken, with Liam Neesom. 

Your local community lead organization that responds to violence will know how trafficking is showing up in your community. Do a search for anti-trafficking, rape/domestic violence centers or call the police department and ask them where to go for an answer to the question. Ask them when their next training is. If there isn’t something local, go to the state level. The chances are someone at the state level is providing such training.

A good training will cover labor trafficking, sex trafficking, and the trafficking of minors in labor and sex. Here is a national resource where you can even get free CEUs: SOAR. This training for professionals can be taken online individually and/or in a group with NHTTAC (National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Center). 

To be a part of the solution, learn how trafficking looks in your community. Learn the signals from those silently letting you know they are in trouble. Learn what help local organizations need in financial support, volunteering and in-kind support. Have local advocates talk to your organizations.

The Office of Trafficking in Persons ( has an annual budget of only $30 million to address these crimes. The film, again, has generated more than $178 million to date. Investors have already received their original investment plus 20% back, but how much of the profits are going to support anti-trafficking efforts? I can’t find an answer to this question.

You can help level the playing field by giving at least the same amount as the price of that movie ticket to your local community violence survivor support organization. There are plenty of state and national level organizations that are good stewards of your donation as well if that’s preferable to you. 


Holly Timberlake, Ph.D. with contributions from Angela Clark, a survivor advocate for anti-trafficking, and a member, too, of FREA.


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