SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — A group of women who were allegedly sexually harassed by Operation Underground Railroad‘s former CEO Tim Ballard released a statement through an attorney on Thursday morning, Sept. 28.
On the steps in front of the Utah State Capitol building, attorney Suzette Rasmussen said the group of women she represented felt strongly about speaking out publicly against Tim Ballard.
While Rasmussen said the women felt it was important the public knew the truth and to affirm the allegations, she said she could not comment or confirm the specifics of those experiences and allegations.
“These are real women whose lives were affected through their marriages, through their families, and they are working to rebuild from here and heal,” explained Rasmussen.
In their statement, the group of women said they were subjected to “sexual harassment, spiritual manipulation, grooming, and sexual misconduct” by Ballard while working with O.U.R.
Previous reporting by Vice News indicates the allegations claim Ballard would coerce employees and volunteers to share a bed with him or shower together in order to convince sex traffickers that they were “his wife.” Ballard would allegedly claim the ruse was necessary to fool the traffickers for the success of the mission.
“We acknowledge the risks involved in challenging someone as prominent as Tim Ballard,” the group of women said in their statement. “We will reveal our stories in our own time and in our own way and on our own terms, but for now, we choose to remain anonymous.”
Earlier this week, Ballard responded to the allegations through a video statement posted on YouTube explaining the “Couples Ruse.” The ruse, he said, is a tactic used to rescue children and sex workers from human trafficking situations.
“If I am a man or one of my operators, walks into one of these places and is approached by a trafficker trying to put a child to service on that person or a sex worker and that man doesn’t partake in what is offered, they lose credibility. They’re kicked out of the place and no one is going to get rescued,” said Ballard. “So, we came up with a concept that we call the couples ruse or the couples tactic.”
Ballard explains in the tactic, that two operators pose as a couple. One route for the couple is for one of the operators to show interest, but say they are unable to “partake” because their significant other wouldn’t want them to. Ballard claims by asking to do it later, operators have the ability to build rapport, dig deeper, get more information, and eventually rescue a trafficked person.
The group of women said their involvement with O.U.R. was rooted in their commitment to fight against human trafficking and they remained silent “as much as possible,” however, Ballard’s denials of the allegations encouraged them to come forward with Thursday’s statement.
“Though we value our privacy while we work to rebuild our lives, we also feel a responsibility to speak out and state unequivocally that these allegations are true,” Rasmussen said on behalf of the women.
Rasmussen said she could not comment on what the next steps are for Ballard or for the group of women. She emphasized that she couldn’t confirm if there would be any potential upcoming litigation or lawsuits against Ballard and that the women simply wanted their voices heard.
“The women feel very strongly that the fight against human trafficking is a noble endeavor and one that these women were eager to engage in,” said Rasmussen. “But the behavior of Tim Ballard crossed the line and these women cannot remain silent.”
Operation Underground Railroad said that when it received the allegations against Ballard, who was CEO of the organization at the time, he was immediately placed on administrative leave and an investigation was launched. At the conclusion of that investigation, Ballard resigned as CEO.
“Mr. Ballard’s alleged misconduct does not represent O.U.R.’s values or others within the organization,” O.U.R. said in a statement. “O.U.R. is dedicated to combatting sexual abuse and stands with anyone who has been victimized. O.U.R. is sensitive to the privacy concerns of any individuals affected by this and is committed to upholding our duty to protect their anonymity.”
O.U.R. further emphasized that its mission does not change as the organization is committed to continuing domestic and international efforts to rescue victims of human trafficking.
Last week, the SPEAR Fund released a statement on behalf of Tim Ballard, who is a senior advisor at the organization, saying the allegations were “baseless inventions designed to destroy me and the movement we have built to end the trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable children.”
Suzette Rasmussen said anyone else who wishes to come forward regarding experiences they may have had with Ballard or Operation Underground Railroad can email her at OURinfo@allutahlaw.com.