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I-Team: Sex trafficking in 'Sound of Freedom' movie vs. in Texas

I-Team: Sex trafficking in 'Sound of Freedom' movie vs. in Texas
I-Team: Sex trafficking in 'Sound of Freedom' movie vs. in Texas 07:12

NORTH TEXAS ( — The movie "Sound of Freedom" is surprising many as ticket sales are now grossing near $150 million.

The Angel Studios movie is based on a story about a federal agent who devotes his life to rescuing children forced into sex slavery. He saves dozens of children in a sting operation in South America.

The movie, filmed five years ago, is not without criticism and critique. The movie's star has been accused of making controversial comments, there are claims the rescue organization exaggerates missions, and there is popularity of the film among some QAnon supporters.

However, this is not what the I-Team is focusing on.

Instead, the I-Team researched what local movie-goers may be asking:

  • Are there victims here in Texas? Where are they?
  • How does the sex trafficking in this movie compare to that in our own backyard?
  • And what can you do to help?

The differences

"What we know is that looks very different domestically," New Friends New Life CEO Bianca Davis told the I-Team. "It looks very different in Dallas."

Davis believes it's crucial for the public to understand the differences in what sex trafficking looks like internationally and what sex trafficking looks like domestically.

"I think it's very, very important," she said.

While the movie ends with a rescue, Davis says not all sex trafficking cases in North Texas have a happy ending, and that the modes and methods are very different in the U.S.

"You look at it internationally, you may think, 'That can never happen to my son or daughter.' But we are living in a in a world where the risks are very clear, present and local here in our community."

Trafficker-stranger vs. Someone victims know

In the film, the traffickers are portrayed as pure evil. They're bad guys who are strangers to the victims.

In the U.S., Davis says the traffickers typically know their victims. "What we see domestically and locally is that it's familial, which means that someone can be trafficked by a family member...a boyfriend, someone who they think cares about them. Someone they're in [a] relationship with."

Method kidnapping vs. grooming

Some critics fear the movie could have parents thinking sex trafficking starts with a kidnapping.

While Davis says that certainly happens in the U.S., she says most of the time the trafficker not only knows the victim, but he or she has worked hard to groom him or her over long periods of time.

"What works here locally is, you know, access to the internet and looking for children that may be out of place," Davis explained. "So, they're supposed to be in school, but it's two o'clock and they're at the movies or they're in the mall, or at night they're online."

Buyer-tourists vs. the average guy

In the movie, the buyers are portrayed as tourists—often American tourists—who are traveling to another country where buying a child appears common.

Domestically, Davis says the buyers look different. "There are people who are purchasing other human beings who you may work with, or you may go to church with, or...they may be your dentist, may be your attorney."

And while Davis wants moviegoers to understand that this real-life based film about sex trafficking internationally is not wrong, she says it's just a very different story here at home.

"If you're looking at the movie and thinking that is what happens, you're going to miss it," Davis said.

The similarities

Matt Osborne spent 12 years with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the U.S. Department of State. Osborne also works as New Friends New Life's men's advocate. Every month, he joins the organization as a tour guide through the streets of North Texas. He takes the public on free bus tours to open their eyes about where real sex trafficking cases have taken place and to spread awareness of the growing criminal enterprise.

The bus tour also aims at debunking myths about sex trafficking, particularly those created by other movies such as "Taken," according to Osborne, who has a cameo in "Sound of Freedom."

"I'm the president and CEO of Operation Underground Railroad," he said. The organization he now runs is the group which rescues dozens of young victims in the summer film.

Osborne says he sees the differences in international and domestic sex trafficking. He's worked it in the U.S. and in countries all over the world, but he also says he sees similarities—which he believes can help educate the public.

Traffickers lure victims

Research finds most sex traffickers lure victims by preying on their vulnerabilities. In the movie, the little girl longed for stardom and a beauty queen promised it.

In Texas, Osborne said traffickers also make promises which attract young girls and boys who are searching for what the criminals offer.

"They take advantage of girls mostly, but also boys, who maybe have a fight with their mom and maybe run away and they're at a dark bus station, or they're at a Walmart or a movie theater," said Osborne.

Victims' ages

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, most victims in the country are between 11 and 14 years old.

The young victim in the movie is 11.

Traffickers brand/tattoo victims

In "Sound of Freedom," the little girl has a black mark on the back of her where the traffickers branded her.

Here in Texas, experts say traffickers often claim and mark their victims with specific tattooing or branding as a means of ownership.

"We do see that and as you know in the United States, [it's] often a bar code, the name of a trafficker, a that does happen. In this case, she was branded like cattle," Osborne said.

Violence and threats

In the movie, the children are told if they do not cooperate, their siblings will be injured.

"That is absolutely real. In the United States, often times a trafficker will try to get some compromising material on a victim. Maybe it's a nude photo/video, some texts. If that doesn't work…a trafficker may say, 'If you don't do what I say I'm gonna kill your mom, your sister, someone you care about.'"

Advocates hope moviegoers can recognize the similarities and differences and walk away asking more questions.

"While people are talking about the film and while it may require some re-education about what that may look like locally, it gives us an additional platform. We have received phone calls. We have received donations from people that [sic] have seen the film and want to help.

But some survivors say the filmmakers did not do enough to drive those donations to survivors of domestic sex trafficking.

Survivors' perspective

The sex trafficking survivors the I-Team talked to say they do not plan to see the movie at all. They say it fabricates myths they've worked so hard to dispel, such as the idea that sex trafficking only happens in other countries.

They say it gives heroes a voice, not them.

And at the end of the movie, there is a message asking you to buy tickets for those who can't afford them. Survivors say that call to action should be for victims.

For that reason, the I-Team is providing the following information for those who may want to volunteer, donate and/or learn more about sex trafficking in the U.S.



Genesis Women's Shelter & Support

Mosaic Family Services

New Friends New Life

  • For more information about donating, click here.
  • For more information about the bus tour, click here.

North Texas Coalition Against Human Trafficking

Traffick 911

Texas Human Trafficking Resource Center

Texas Human Trafficking Task Force

Rebecca Bender Initiative

Report suspect human trafficking

Department of Homeland Security

  • To report suspected human trafficking to Federal Law Enforcement, call 1-866-347-2423.

National Human Trafficking Hotline

  • To report suspected human trafficking to the hotline, call 1-888-373-7888.
  • You can also submit a tip to here.

Note: For your own safety and the safety of the victims, experts say do not directly contact the traffickers or the victims.

Response from Angel Studios

The I-Team reached out to Angel Studios via email. Last week, they received the following response:

"Hi there.

We're still here and working hard to get to your request. We apologize for the delay. If your question is the same, we respectfully ask that you don't write in again, which slows down the process. If you're receiving this reply, know that we haven't lost your original question.

Our highest priority is to make sure you hear from us. Thank you so much for your patience!"

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