Chris Goyette (Chris Goyette)

Community fights child sex-trafficking with premiere of “The Abolitionists”

Members of the Rexburg community will assist Operation Underground Railroad (OUR) in their mission to save children from sex trafficking Monday when they show “The Abolitionists” Monday evening.

The movie will be shown one-time at the Paramount 5 theater May 16 at 7:30 p.m.

Heidi Fransen, the Idaho Volunteer Coordinator for Operation Underground Railroad and National Volunteer Coordinator for the Abolitionists movie, said the movie follows the rescuers of OUR, an organization that works independently and with world governments to find and save children from sex trafficking.

“I don’t think there is anything worse than child sex trafficking,” Fransen said. “These children don’t have parents or family fighting for them and I think it’s our duty to take care of them.”

Fransen said proceeds from the one-time event will go to OUR and tickets will be $14 in 480 theaters across the country but only $10 per person in Rexburg.

“If ‘The Abolitionists’ does well on May 16, then it can be promoted to a full theatrical release, but we must have a good turn out on that night,” Fransen said. “This problem will only get worse unless we do something about it.”

Savannah Harker, the President of the Anti-Human-Trafficking Community Club (AHTCC), said viewing “The Abolitionists” will give one a much greater insight into the issue.

“Slavery’s victims today include nearly two million precious children throughout the world who are exploited for sex,” Harker said. “Our hope is to bring light and hope back into their lives.”

Fransen said Tim Ballard, the founder and CEO of Operation Underground Railroad, started OUR in January 2014 and has since rescued 525 children and arrested over 175 traffickers.

“He had worked as an undercover agent for the Department of Homeland Security for 10 years and he was in the CIA before that,” Fransen said. “He was the head of a child crimes unit, so he did a lot of work rescuing kids.”

Fransen said the problem Ballard found in the U.S. government was that they could only rescue children that belonged to the U.S.

“They were saving these kids but there were always lots more kids they had to leave behind,” Fransen said. “Ballard thought there must be some way we can save them because their countries are not looking for them and ours is the only one looking.”

Fransen said Ballard wanted to start an independent organization so he could still access his contacts in the U.S. government, but without all the red tape.

“They just had a trafficking bust a few months ago in the state of Washington, and they were able to actually support the Washington State Highway Patrol in their efforts,” Fransen said. “Sometimes they do it on their own and sometimes they do it through other government agencies.”

Kayla Morris, a junior studying recreation management, said she is from Clark County, Washington, the number one county in the U.S. for child sex trafficking.

“Everyone I knew at school had some kind of encounter with someone who had tried to take them, or their friend had an encounter with someone,” Morris said. “Some of our bus routes were changed so that we were closer to home because there were cars following the buses home.”

Morris said many people are unaware that child sex trafficking can happen so close to home like in her hometown, Vancouver, Washington.

“It’s just your average American neighborhood,” Morris said.

Harker said everyone can support the rescue of children from sex slavery by watching “The Abolitionists” on May 16.

“I have seen this movie several times and it will change your life forever,” Harker said.

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