“Sound of Freedom” Exposing the Violence of Human Trafficking
“Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking off every yoke?”
― Isaiah 58:6
You might have heard something in the news about a new movie featuring Passion of the Christ actor Jim Caviezel.
Sound of Freedom, released in theaters on July 4, depicts the true story of Tim Ballard, a former Homeland Security agent who has devoted his life to rescuing children who are victims of human sex trafficking.
In recent weeks, Sound of Freedom has taken the box-office by storm. Although the film only had a modest $14.5 million budget, it has grossed an astonishing $50 million in ticket sales, outperforming many high budget blockbusters. In fact, in its opening weekend, it even beat out the final installment of Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones franchise—no small accomplishment!
Much of the success of the film is due to the fact that it has tapped into a massive faith-based audience that is appalled by the realities depicted in the film, and that is determined to raise awareness about the way inhuman forces are exploiting the most innocent among us for nefarious purposes.
Many supporters of the film participated in a “pay it forward” campaign, in which they purchased tickets for other people who might not otherwise be able to see the film, creating a massive grassroots groundswell that has outperformed the marketing machines of the big film studios.
The Dismal Realities of Human Trafficking
Already, the film has sparked a nationwide conversation about the realities of sex trafficking, opening many eyes to the dark realities.
Human trafficking is typically a hidden crime, existing below the surface of normal, human society, in a dark netherworld in which sinister forces buy and sell human beings for all manner of horrific purposes. However, though hidden, it is tragically far from rare. According to a White House briefing document, some 25 million people are victims of human trafficking globally every year.
It is well-known, for example, that there are certain destinations in the world—such as Thailand—to which people fly explicitly in order to pursue illicit pleasures. According to some reports, there are tens of thousands of children in Thailand working in the sex trade.
Often, the people who use the “services” of these child slaves are well-off Westerners, who cannot easily sate their perverse appetites under the strict laws and well-funded police in their home countries. And so, these people—many from the United States—spend their money travelling to the other side of the world for the express purpose of exploiting both adults and children in the most grotesque ways imaginable.
However, it would also be a mistake to assume that human trafficking does not take place in North America as well. Unfortunately, in every society there is a class of “forgotten” people—people who are too poor, lonely, and insignificant to receive much attention, and who can go “missing” without anybody important noticing. As with so many other evils, it is primarily the most disadvantaged and vulnerable—in particular women and children—who suffer the brunt of this evil.
As the U.S. state department notes, human trafficking is very much alive in the United States. However, as the state department also notes, “The quality and quantity of data available are often hampered by the hidden nature of the crime, challenges in identifying individual victims, gaps in data accuracy and completeness, and significant barriers regarding the sharing of victim information among various stakeholders.” That is to say, we do not have a clear idea of precisely how many trafficking victims there are in the United States.
But what is clear is that in the sordid underbelly of our society, children are preyed upon by sociopathic manipulators, who will stop at nothing to exploit the bodies and souls of the most innocent children for their own profit and pleasure.
A Grave Violation of Human Dignity
It should go without saying that any form of human trafficking is a grave violation of the dignity of the human person. Church teaching is clear that human beings can never be treated as a means to an end.
Human beings are made in the image and likeness of God. As such, they possess intrinsic value that transcends the logic of the marketplace. While human beings can and do voluntarily work to bring financial profit or other benefits to themselves and others, the Church has always emphasized that employers must always treat their employees first and foremost as human beings, not wealth-producers.
In the passage quoted at the beginning of this article, the Prophet Isaiah excoriates the hypocrisy of those employers in his time who, even on days of ritual fasting, abuse their workers, and fight with one another. As Isaiah explains, instead of fasting that fails to convert hearts, God prefers a “fasting” that takes the form of freeing the oppressed, feeding the hungry, providing shelter for the homeless, etc.
In other words, not even ritual religious obligations can supplant the fundamental moral imperative to respect the dignity of our fellow human beings. Indeed, at the core of the Biblical message, emphasized with particular intensity by Jesus in the New Testament, is the command to treat every human being with the dignity that he or she deserves. “Truly, I say unto you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
Human trafficking, which is nothing less than modern slavery, is one of the most appalling violations of human dignity imaginable—the naked reduction of an immortal human being to a commodity to be bought and sold, treated even worse than we treat many of our animals.
However, while all human trafficking is a grave evil, there is clearly something particularly diabolical about the kind of trafficking that Tim Ballard has dedicated his life to eradicating, and which is depicted in Sound of Freedom. Indeed, it is hard to wrap one’s head around the degree of evil involved in the deliberate, pre-meditated, industrialized trade in the flesh of children.
In His ministry, Jesus repeatedly drew attention to the innocence of children, indicating that adults must in some way recover the simple innocence of children if they wish to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. And we know precisely what Christ thought of those who would in any way pervert the innocence of children. “It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin” (Luke 17:2).
The Church’s Position
It is unsurprising, therefore, that recent popes have repeatedly addressed the enormous evil of human trafficking, urging governments and individual persons to take the problem seriously. Pope Francis has made drawing attention to the issue a keystone of his pontificate.
“Human trafficking disfigures dignity,” said Pope Francis in his message marking the ninth World Day of Prayer and Reflection against Human Trafficking. “Exploitation and subjugation limit freedom and turn people into objects to use and discard. And the system of trafficking profits from the injustice and wickedness that oblige millions of people to live in conditions of vulnerability.”
Indeed, other than abortion, it is difficult to think of a practice that more perfectly exemplifies the “throwaway culture” that Pope Francis has decried so often.
In his Message for the World Day of Peace in 2015, Pope Francis urged his readers “to recognize that we are facing a global phenomenon which exceeds the competence of any one community or country. In order to eliminate it, we need a mobilization comparable in size to that of the phenomenon itself.”
Pope St. John Paul II, the “pope of life,” also repeatedly spoke out about the issue. In a letter on the occasion of a conference on human trafficking, Pope St. John Paul II noted that, “The trade in human persons constitutes a shocking offence against human dignity and a grave violation of fundamental human rights.”
In that same letter, Pope St. John Paul II pointed to a powerful passage in Gaudium et Spes, in which the fathers of the Second Vatican Council decried “slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, and disgraceful working conditions where people are treated as instruments of gain rather than free and responsible persons” as “infamies” which “poison human society, debase their perpetrators” and constitute “a supreme dishonor to the Creator” (no. 27).
Determination to Tell the Truth
Although Sound of Freedom is an extremely difficult movie to watch, it is encouraging to know that millions of people are taking the time to become informed about one of the greatest evils being perpetrated in our modern world, as well as some of the efforts being taken to stamp it out.
What many people may not know, is that the film almost didn’t make it to the big screen. The film was originally written in 2015, and shooting wrapped up in 2018. However, Sound of Freedom then languished for years, after the company that owned the film was bought out by Disney.
When Disney decided to shelve the film, the producer of the film, Eduardo Verastegui, refused to give up, and eventually got Disney to release the rights to him. Even then, it took several years before Angel Studios, a faith-based company, managed to purchase the rights and bring it to theaters. The rest is history.
It is not a coincidence that many of the individuals involved in bringing the film to theaters will be familiar to pro-life activists. Actor Jim Caviezel, of course, not only played Christ in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ but is also arguably the single most outspoken pro-life actor in Hollywood. Producer Eduardo Verastegui is well-known to pro-life audiences for his leading role in the film Bella, which powerfully depicted adoption as the loving alternative to abortion. The director of Sound of Freedom, Alejandro Monteverde, was also the director of Bella.
Unfortunately, the strong Christian beliefs of the producers of the film, as well as of the protagonist, Tim Ballard, seem to have caused many mainstream media outlets either to turn a blind eye to the film, or to dismiss it as faith-based propaganda. This is unfortunate because the obvious truth is that opposing human trafficking is not—or should not—be something that is an exclusively Christian or “conservative” issue.
It is a fundamental issue of human rights, and one that does not often receive the attention it deserves. Sadly, there remains widespread ignorance on the nature and the spread of human trafficking, leaving persons who are trafficked invisible to most people, and human trafficking itself goes unperceived.
While most people would insist that they are firmly opposed to human trafficking—in particular the sex trafficking of children—it is easier to forget that there are children, right now, suffering abuse of a kind that defies all description. It took a group of determined pro-life actors, directors, and producers to care enough about these lost children to tell their story in a way that would get the attention of the world.
Let us pray that the success of Sound of Freedom pricks the conscience of the many millions of viewers who have seen it, and that it spurs concrete, effective action to rescue even more of the children (and men and women) who have been victimized and commodified by human trafficking.
For, as Caviezel’s character says in the film, “God’s children are not for sale!”
So, please join me in praying this prayer to St. Josephine Bakhita, who was kidnapped and sold into slavery at the age of seven and trafficked. For “prayer is the force,” says Pope Francis “that sustains our common commitment to ending trafficking.”
St. Josephine Bakhita, as a child you were sold as a slave, and had to face unspeakable difficulties and suffering.
Once you were freed from physical slavery, you found true redemption in the encounter with Christ and His Church.
St. Josephine Bakhita, help all those who are trapped in slavery. In their name, intercede with the God of mercy, that the chains of their captivity might be broken. May God Himself free all those who have been threatened, wounded, or mistreated by the trade and trafficking of human beings. May He bring relief to those who survive this slavery and teach them to see Jesus as a model of faith and hope, that their wounds may be healed.
We implore you to pray and intercede for all of us: that we not fall into indifference; that we may open our eyes and look upon the miseries and wounds of so many brothers and sisters deprived of their dignity and freedom and hear their cry for help.
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Father Shenan J. Boquet was ordained in 1993 and is a priest of the Houma-Thibodaux Roman Catholic Diocese in Louisiana, his home state, where he served before joining HLI as its President in August 2011. Father Boquet earned a BA from Saint Joseph Seminary College, a Master of Divinity (MDiv) from Notre Dame Seminary Graduate School of Theology, a Certification Program in Health Care Ethics from the National Catholic Bioethics Center, and a Master of Science in Bioethics (MSBe) from the University of Mary in Bismarck. In 2018, Father Boquet was awarded an honorary visiting professorship by the Benedict XVI Catholic University in Trujillo, Peru. He is available for interviews and bookings on behalf of HLI by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.