Paul Hutchinson — an executive producer on Sound of Freedom, the film loosely based on anti-trafficking expert Tim Ballard — has admitted to touching the breasts of a possibly underage trafficking victim during a 2016 sting operation in Mexico.
At the time, Hutchinson was working with Operation Underground Railroad (or OUR), the anti-trafficking group founded by Ballard in 2013. According to a VICE report, footage catching Hutchinson in the act was captured by videographers working with OUR on a documentary and subsequent TV series called The Abolitionists. This footage was then reviewed by investigator Bryan Purdy of the Davis County Attorney’s Office, who wrote detailed descriptions of it as part of an FBI investigation into Ballard and OUR that was closed earlier this year without any charges being brought forward.
Documents obtained through a public records request from VICE News include descriptions showing that Hutchinson and OUR believed the trafficking victim was 16 years old at the time. In another video description, Hutchinson expressed concern to Matt Osborne — now the president and chief operating officer of OUR — over the possibility that he could be prosecuted by Mexican authorities for his actions in the incident.
When contacted by VICE, Hutchinson did not push back on the investigator’s description of his actions nor did he deny touching the trafficking victim’s naked breasts. However, he did claim to have a sworn affidavit from Mexican federal police saying the victim was over 18. According to VICE, however, Hutchinson did not respond to “multiple requests” to provide the document.
“There is a lot to the story, a very dangerous situation and I am happy to let the world know the details when the time is right,” Hutchinson wrote in an email to VICE. “Every operator who was present stands behind me in how I reacted to the situation. I have zero reservations as to how I handled myself undercover. You don’t find trafficked children in the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton. We had to go to the most dangerous places on the planet to find the children. All my undercover work was done with integrity and honor.”
While there is no evidence that Hutchinson was acting in any capacity beyond identifying and exposing traffickers, OUR’s approach of requesting minors during operations, rather than finding and rescuing underage victims who were already being trafficked, has been questioned by experts for creating situations such as this one. In Hutchinson’s case, he posed as a “sex tourist” and asked a trafficker for younger girls.
Read the full VICE report here.
Hutchinson — who claims on LinkedIn to be the “first investor” in Sound of Freedom — and Ballard aren’t the only people connected to the film to engage in actions at odds with its message. Fabian Marta, who also helped fund the movie, was arrested earlier this summer for child kidnapping.