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Draper Journal

Local Girl Hopes to Raise Awareness of Human Trafficking

Jan 26, 2016 08:41AM ● By Bryan Scott

By Kelly Cannon | [email protected]

Draper - At only 17-years-old, Madelyn O’Farrell has committed herself to changing the world one person at a time. O’Farrell is an advocate for Operation Underground Railroad, a nonprofit that is dedicated to actively rescuing children and adults from sex trafficking all over the world. 

Founded two years ago in Utah, Operation Underground Railroad works with foreign governments to not only rescue victims, mostly children, from sex slavery but also to prosecute the traffickers. 

O’Farrell got involved with OUR after hearing about it from her father, Adam, who helps raise money for OUR. “When I was told what they do, I was really moved and wanted to find a way to help, and thought it was a cause the community could really get behind,” O’Farrell said. “This is an issue that is so behind the scenes, there are millions of children worldwide who are living in these awful conditions, and yet no one talks about it. I think it’s important to find causes like this and be a voice for those who don’t have one.” 

 O’Farrell said she has seen the effects of sexual violence and thinks it’s almost impossible to imagine the horrible living conditions these children live in and the subsequent trauma they experience. “It is a heavy topic to talk about, but I think it’s also an important one to talk about,” O’Farrell said. 

OUR was founded by Tim Ballard, a former CIA agent who worked primarily in Latin America. He also worked as a special agent with the Department of Homeland Security with the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. He was deployed as an undercover operative for the U.S. Child Sex Tourism Jump Team. 

According to O’Farrell, Ballard became frustrated with the governmental red tape when it came to not only rescuing victims but also prosecuting the traffickers and those who “buy” these children. He then left the public sector and started his own nonprofit. “What they do is go undercover, often posing as ‘customers’ and have the local law enforcement come in and save the children ‘working’ there,” O’Farrell said. 

OUR has had multiple success stories, rescuing hundreds of victims over the last two years. In January, they announced they had rescued 16 victims and arrested nine traffickers/abusers in a Latin American country. In December 2015, they announced three were rescued and three were arrested in India. In November 2015, 27 were rescued and seven were arrested in India. The biggest sting came in November 2014. In a rescue titled Operation Triple Take, 123 victims of sex trafficking were rescued and 12 traffickers/abusers were arrested. 

In February 2015, OUR merged with the Elizabeth Smart Foundation. While they both still operate under their own names, the two groups work together to ensure the victims are taken care of after they are rescued. Specifically, the Elizabeth Smart Foundation will work with the victims to ensure they don’t fall back into the same lives they have been pulled out of. “It’s the hardest battle. Going out there and rescuing children gives them an opportunity,” Smart said in a press release announcing the merger. “But making that opportunity a future is really what we’re trying to do.” 

Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped in 2002 at the age of 14 and became victim of sexual slavery. She was later rescued nine months later. She has since become an advocate for the victims of sexual slavery. She is currently on the Board of Governors and her father, Ed Smart, is the program director for rehab and prevention. O’Farrell is currently planning a benefit concert to raise money for OUR. While the specifics are not hammered out yet, O’Farrell is excited to help the organization. “I would really love to see as many people there as possible in order to support this fantastic organization,” O’Farrell said. For more information, visit