National organization, Marshall students fight sex trafficking


Sarah Ingram

Jerry Gowen reviewed the progress O.U.R. Rescue has made since they began fighting child sex trafficking.

Operation Underground Railroad Rescue showcased its new documentary “Operation Toussaint” to Marshall University students and faculty, Monday, Nov. 12, to demonstrate the impact the organization is having on child sex trafficking in countries throughout the world. The organization also recognized that Marshall students have assisted in arrests in countries such as Thailand.

“Operation Toussaint” walked viewers through the process that O.U.R. Rescue takes when they plan to take down sex traffickers in different countries. The documentary specifically went through an operation in Haiti in 2017. Jerry Gowen, the chief operating officer of O.U.R. Rescue, said he wanted the documentary to enlighten people to know they can help.

“My message tonight that I hope people leave with is that everyone can do something,” Gowen said. “Whatever you feel like you can, and everyone is in a different place, but whatever you’re capable of taking on, do it. Go get involved.”

“Operation Toussaint” follows the founder of the organization, Tim Ballard, into Haiti while he and a team of members attempt to dismantle a sex trafficking ring. The documentary contains footage from organizing arrangements before invading rings, undercover work, actual busts and aftercare for children who have been saved.

Ballard described the organization multiple times and said they often go into very dark places.

“We intentionally go to the darkest corners of the earth where there is no hope and find these kids,” Ballard said. “What that does is provide hope for everybody now. Where there was no hope, there’s hope everywhere.”

After the documentary ended, Gowen highlighted how students in Marshall’s digital forensics program have assisted in similar cases of sex trafficking rings in multiple countries. John Sammons, the director of the Digital Forensics and Information Assurance Program, spoke of how Marshall students are helping fight the battle against sex traffickers.

“Part of the program is called an open source intelligence exchange,” Sammons said. “It’s a vetted selected group of students that do open source intelligence collection and analysis for a variety of clients. What we’ve done for O.U.R. is provide open source intelligence stuff for the operations in advance before their operations in a specific country. This is for when they hit the ground so that they have a little bit of an idea of what’s what.”

The event also consisted of local organizations providing information on where Huntington residents can get help or try to help others in dangerous situations. Members from the CONTACT Rape Crisis Center and the local volunteer group associated with O.U.R. Rescue said they believe the screening on campus is a good way to help make people aware.

“Awareness is everything,” Amy Stowasser, a victim advocate with CONTACT, said. “If we don’t know there’s a problem, no one can be there to fix it or attempt to do their part.”

Stacy Cossin, a senior digital forensics and information assurance major, said she agreed with Stowasser, stating that helping sex trafficking victims can be something students assist with even if they did not think they were capable of helping.

“I think it’s a way to open people’s eyes to understand that human trafficking is actually happening and that we as students can take steps to eliminate this and make people more aware,” Cossin said.

Students interested in getting involved with O.U.R. Rescue can find information and volunteer applications at

Sarah Ingram can be contacted at [email protected].