Child Sex Trafficking Explored in New Doc 'Abolitionists' (Exclusive Video)
“Just like the book 'Uncle Tom’s Cabin' brought awareness to slavery and helped start a civil war, this movie can instantly turn that dial of public awareness to sex trafficking,” says director Chet Thomas.
Toward the beginning of The Abolitionists, a film with a limited release beginning Friday, the audience is introduced to “Batman.” He’s a flawed hero with a troubled past who now works largely in the dark of night, protecting the vulnerable from unimaginable horrors. He differs from the more-famous caped crusader in one important way: He’s real.
Batman, we learn, spent 15 years laundering money for drug cartels in Latin America. By his own admission, he was “out of control,” living in a crack hotel, where he met a girl — around 11 years old — whose mother was a prostitute. Her clients, with the approval of mom’s boyfriend, routinely raped the young daughter.
Spending time with that girl led to a Christian epiphany for Batman, whose real name is a closely guarded secret. Nowadays, he works undercover, largely with a former Homeland Security officer named Tim Ballard. The two of them set up sting operations worldwide that result in the capture of those who sell children as sex slaves.
For two years, hidden cameras have been capturing the work of Ballard and Batman, and The Abolitionists is the first product from their footage. The directors of the documentary, Chet Thomas and Darrin Fletcher, also are working on a TV show. They say they have enough video — taken with cameras disguised as sunglasses, pens and phones — for 25 episodes.
“Words can’t express how grateful I am for Batman,” Ballard says in the movie. “He finds the children that the traffickers are selling ... he has the ability to mix and mingle and connect with evil in ways that are almost incomprehensible.”
Twenty-six boys and girls were rescued in this "takedown" in the Dominican Republic.
There’s also a narrative film in the works, tentatively called The Sound of Freedom, based on Ballard and Batman from director Alejandro Monteverde and producer-director Eduardo Verastegui. The pair most recently worked together on Little Boy, a faith-based movie set in World War II starring Kevin James and Disney Channel star David Henrie.
The Abolitionists was executive produced by Gerald Molen, the Oscar-winning producer of Schindler’s List who also executive produced the three documentaries from Dinesh D’Souza. The Abolitionists, in fact, represents the first time Molen is straying from the conservative filmmaker for a documentary movie.
The Abolitionists consists entirely of real footage — not recreations or dramatizations — of real sex traffickers and their victims. While the filmmakers don’t show faces of the children sold or rented (the going rate is $300 per night), or Batman’s face, it doesn’t shy away from showing the culprits. Not only do they appear onscreen, but the video is provided to authorities who then use it to prosecute the human traffickers.
Twenty-seven girls were rescued from a "takedown" in Cartagena, Colombia.
In just the operations featured in the film, 57 girls are rescued and seven traffickers are arrested, but Ballard’s organization, Operation Underground Railroad, has rescued 573 children worldwide and put 160 criminals behind bars, Molen tells The Hollywood Reporter.
“Kids got home again because of this movie, and that’s the most important reason for this story to get out there,” says Molen.
In the exclusive video at the top of this story, an operative poses as an American renting girls for a party his clients are throwing in a Latin American country. The operative, Matt Osborne, manages to get the traffickers to admit their intent, which is to rent out girls for the purpose of sex. More than a dozen girls were rescued during that particular operation.
The Abolitionists came about practically by accident, when Thomas and Fletcher hired Ballard as a historian for a movie they were planning about an eccentric but effective history teacher.
“Then Ballard starts telling us these stories about being a government agent and rescuing kids, and we thought, ‘Wow. Who are you?’ And that’s the story we wanted to tell,” recalls Thomas.
Molen, meanwhile, had been friends with Thomas for years, even before the two of them worked together on Minority Report, the 2002 movie directed by Steven Spielberg that starred Tom Cruise and that Molen co-produced.
In The Abolitionists, the undercover operatives who usually pose as Americans looking to rent child sex slaves are seen praying for a positive outcome to their stings, and Batman briefly explains his conversion to Christianity. Hence, when the movie played on 482 screens for one night only in May, the filmmakers marketed it largely to a faith-based audience. They’re hoping those who saw it will then help spread the word when it opens in New York on Friday and in Los Angeles a week later.
“Just like the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin brought awareness to slavery and helped start a civil war, this movie can instantly turn that dial of public awareness to sex trafficking,” says Thomas.
"Batman" and Tim Ballard are arrested (and later released) during a sting operation.
Images courtesy of The Abolitionists.