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. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (KSL.com) — An attorney for several women who used to work for Operation Underground Railroad accused the organization’s founder and former CEO Tim Ballard of sexual harassment at a press conference Thursday.
Suzette Rasmussen, who represents several anonymous women who claim to be former employees or contractors for the anti-sex trafficking organization, read a statement from those women on the steps of the Capitol in Salt Lake City.
“As former employees and contractors who worked closely with Operation Underground Railroad, we are choosing to give a public statement about our experiences with Tim Ballard,” the statement said. “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.
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“Our involvement with Operation Underground Railroad was rooted in our commitment to fighting against human trafficking,” it continued. “But while engaging in that noble cause, we were subjected to sexual harassment, spiritual manipulation, grooming and sexual misconduct.”
Rasmussen didn’t provide more details on the allegations and declined to answer most questions from reporters, but the allegations follow reporting from Vice News that Ballard allegedly asked women to act as his “wife” to fool traffickers on undercover missions, and allegedly coerced them into sharing a bed or showering together.
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Ballard — whose career as a special agent with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was the inspiration for the recent hit film “Sound of Freedom” — previously explained what he called the “couples ruse” used by undercover operatives to give cover to men posing as potential clients of traffickers, and has vehemently denied the allegations.
“As with all of the assaults on my character and integrity over many years, the latest tabloid-driven sexual allegations are false,” Ballard told KSL.com last week through the SPEAR Fund, a separate anti-trafficking organization where he serves as a senior adviser. “They are baseless inventions designed to destroy me and the movement we have built to end the trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable children.”
Tim Ballard | KSL.com
Ballard has said he’s considering running for Sen. Mitt Romney’s seat in 2024, and called the timing of the allegations “highly suspicious.”
The SPEAR Fund did not respond to a request for comment on the latest allegations against Ballard.
Aside from reading the statement, Rasmussen didn’t elaborate about what the women allege and repeatedly responded with “no comment” when asked by reporters about the number of women she is representing, when the alleged behavior supposedly occurred and whether they plan to file a lawsuit against Ballard.
Rasmussen also declined to comment on what the women meant by “sexual harassment, spiritual manipulation, grooming and sexual misconduct.”
RELATED | Ex-Operation Underground Railroad CEO Tim Ballard calls sex misconduct allegations ‘baseless’
The statement from the women acknowledged the “risk involved in challenging someone as prominent as Tim Ballard,” saying they “will reveal our stories in our own time 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,” they continue. “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.”
Rasmussen encouraged any others who would like to come forward to contact her at email@example.com.
Operation Underground Railroad issued a statement saying that Ballard left the organization earlier this year after an investigation into the alleged behavior, but didn’t specify what the conduct was.
“Operation Underground Railroad received an allegation of behavior that violated company policy by then-CEO Tim Ballard,” the statement said. “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 OUR, Mr. Ballard resigned.
“Mr. Ballard’s alleged misconduct does not represent OUR’s values or others within the organization. OUR is dedicated to combating sexual abuse and stands with anyone who has been victimized. OUR is sensitive to the privacy concerns of any individuals affected by this and is committed to upholding our duty to protect their anonymity.
“OUR’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.”
Several former Operation Underground Railroad staffers alleged that Ballard may have misled donors about the organization’s purported “rescue” missions, according to investigative documents obtained by KSL.com last week.
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