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Attorney for former OUR employees says they ‘affirm’ allegations of sexual misconduct against Tim Ballard

‘We now stand together to affirm the truth behind these allegations,’ the statement said, in part

SHARE Attorney for former OUR employees says they ‘affirm’ allegations of sexual misconduct against Tim Ballard

Suzette Rasmussen, an attorney representing former employees and contractors of Operation Underground Railroad, speaks on behalf of her clients in front of the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Several former employees and contractors of Operation Underground Railroad spoke out publicly for the first time Thursday, saying their “experiences with Tim Ballard” included being “subjected to sexual harassment, spiritual manipulation, grooming, and sexual misconduct.”

The statement, made by attorney Suzette Rasmussen on behalf of a group of women who have chosen to remain anonymous, comes in response to recent reports surrounding allegations against OUR and its founder and former CEO, Tim Ballard.

Rasmussen’s prepared remarks were given on the south steps of the state Capitol Building in Salt Lake City Thursday morning before an assortment of press. She read, in full:

Good morning, my name is Suzette Rasmussen and I represent a group of women who wish to speak out regarding the recent allegations related to Tim Ballard, the former CEO of Operation Underground Railroad. I’ve been asked to read a statement on their behalf:

As former employees and contractors who worked closely with Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.), we are choosing to give a public statement about our experiences with Tim Ballard.

Earlier this year, complaints were filed that opened the door for an internal investigation. We now stand together to affirm the truth behind these allegations.

Our involvement with Operation Underground Railroad was rooted in our commitment to fighting against human trafficking. But while engaging in that noble cause, we were subjected to sexual harassment, spiritual manipulation, grooming, and sexual misconduct.

Though we value our privacy as we work to rebuild our lives, we also feel a responsibility to speak out and state unequivocally that these allegations are true. We acknowledge the risks involved in challenging someone as prominent as Tim Ballard. 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.

We wish to express our gratitude for the outpouring of support from those who have responded and commented to the media and social media posts. We also want to extend our support and solidarity to all survivors of harassment and abuse of any kind. We believe you, and we are standing by your side as you embark on your own healing journey.

Suzette Rasmussen, an attorney representing former employees and contractors of Operation Underground Railroad, speaks on behalf of her clients in front of the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Operation Underground Railroad responds to allegations

Ballard founded Operation Underground Railroad, an anti-child sex trafficking organization, in 2013, but left the organization earlier this year following an investigation into complaints of sexual misconduct.

He has since started a new organization, The Spear Fund, a nonprofit working with various organizations “to end human trafficking in our time.” Ballard has served as a senior adviser to the organization since leaving OUR earlier this year.

Ballard and The Spear Fund did not respond to a request for a comment on the statement from former OUR employees and contractors.

Operation Underground Railroad released a statement Thursday morning ahead of the press conference. It reads, in full:

Operation Underground Railroad received an allegation of behavior that violated company policy by then CEO Tim Ballard. The organization immediately placed Mr. Ballard on administrative leave and launched an independent, external investigation of the allegation. At the conclusion of the investigation, as previously stated by O.U.R., Mr. Ballard resigned. Mr. Ballard’s alleged misconduct does not represent O.U.R.’s values or others within the organization.

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.’s mission does not change, and we are committed to continuing our domestic and international efforts, in collaboration with law enforcement, to rescue any and all from the scourge of human trafficking.

Allegations stem from Davis County investigation into OUR

Ballard and his work with Operation Underground Railroad have been put under renewed scrutiny since several allegations from a now-closed Davis County investigation were first reported on by Vice in September.

According to the Vice report, Tim Ballard had allegedly claimed his work and other projects were endorsed by President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The two men share the same last name but are not related.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a statement clarifying the relationship between the two men, which said, in part, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints never endorsed, supported or represented OUR, Tim Ballard or any projects associated with them” and said that “Once it became clear Tim Ballard had betrayed their friendship, through the unauthorized use of President Ballard’s name for Tim Ballard’s personal advantage and activity regarded as morally unacceptable, President Ballard withdrew his association.”

The Deseret News independently verified the legitimacy of the statement issued by the church. The full statement can be read here.

Tim Ballard has denied misusing President Ballard’s name and said he is “a faithful Member in good standing in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.”

Vice News subsequently reported “sources familiar with the situation” had come forward with allegations that Ballard had, on multiple occasions, asked women to act as his “wife” during missions, among other allegations.

Ballard responded to this report in a statement, calling the allegations against him “false.”

“As with all of the assaults on my character and integrity over many years, the latest tabloid-driven sexual allegations are false. They are baseless inventions designed to destroy me and the movement we have built to end the trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable children,” the statement says.

“During my time at O.U.R., I designed strict guidelines for myself and our operators in the field. Sexual contact was prohibited, and I led by example. Given our meticulous attention to this issue, any suggestion of inappropriate sexual contact is categorically false.”

On Tuesday, Ballard posted a video on his Instagram with a statement from a woman whose face was blurred. She was identified only as Nataliya.

“I’ve worked on various missions with Tim Ballard specifically ranging from different countries, different continents, and during my time working with him there has been zero inappropriate behavior, any sexual contact, any inappropriate sexual contact whatsoever, before, during or after a mission. Everything was kept very respectful, very professional,” she said. “In fact, I think the OUR team went above and beyond to make sure the safety of both the operators and the victims and anybody involved in a mission.”

Why was the Davis County investigation closed?

The Deseret News broke the news in May that the Davis County Attorney’s Office had closed its investigation of OUR and would not pursue any potential charges related to the organization.

The end of the investigation, dated March 28, 2023, in the document, marks roughly 2 1⁄2 years since Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings first publicly confirmed he was looking into the Utah-based nonprofit.

The charges reviewed by Rawlings’ office included communications fraud, witness tampering and retaliation against a witness, victim or informant, according to a declination statement which Rawlings confirmed was authentic.

The determination to close the investigation came after Rawlings’ office received and reviewed financial audits of the organization and information supplied by law enforcement agencies, including the Utah Attorney General’s Office, the document says.

Why did some former OUR employees choose to speak publicly now?

Rasmussen said the group of women she represents felt the need to speak publicly amid claims that the allegations against Ballard were false.

“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. But the behavior of Tim Ballard crossed the line. And these women cannot remain silent,” Rasmussen said. “As further denials of these allegations come from the other side, they felt it was very important that the public know the truth. So they’ve asked me to make this statement today.”

Rasmussen said she was representing “several women” but did not reveal any additional information about the women who have come forward, with the caveat that others may emerge. She said she and the women she represents are aware of several more women with similar experiences.

Rasmussen did not elaborate on the specific nature of Ballard’s alleged sexual misconduct or whether the women had previously brought the complaints to law enforcement officials.

When asked why no additional information could be revealed at this time, Rasmussen said, “because of the severity of this matter, and that it affects real women and their lives and their families.”