Column: For this lawyer and Assembly candidate, ‘save the children’ isn’t a hashtag

Boys tease each other at dinner table with family
Alessandro, left, has dinner with Maggy Krell and her family. Alessandro was separated from his mother when they arrived at the U.S. border and Krell, a Sacramento lawyer and California Assembly candidate, helped reunite them.
(Max Whittaker/For The Times)

The Conservative Political Action Conference, an influential MAGA madhouse intent on making conservative values cruel again, announced recently that disgraced anti-trafficking pseudo-hero Tim Ballard will speak at its annual gathering this month.

For those unfamiliar with Ballard, he made a name for himself among the QAnon conspiracy crowd as a supposed savior of sex-trafficked children, staging questionable missions to snatch kids from the hands of abusers in far-off countries. Then a bunch of women accused him of sexual misconduct, which he denies.

Last summer, actor Jim Caviezel played Ballard in “The Sound of Freedom.” The not-so-based-on-reality film shocked the establishment by raking in $250 million at the box office.


Turns out a lot of folks want to #savethechildren, or at least fantasize about it — never mind the realities.

While saving children from sex trafficking is something we can all agree is good, few people actually want to do the difficult work of protecting girls and boys who are being trafficked every day on American streets. It’s not glamorous, and it’s not what most of us think.

While anyone can be the victim of sex trafficking regardless of race or gender, the reality is that most victims in the U.S. are Black and brown children, too often raised in poverty and generational trauma.

While some may have been brought from other states or even countries, most are from our California cities and towns, and can be found for sale on Sepulveda Boulevard in Los Angeles, Capp Street in San Francisco, Stockton Boulevard in Sacramento and on hundreds of other real-world and internet back alleys.

Some are trafficked by strangers, but most know the person who is profiting off their bodies.

All of them could use our help.

Ballard doesn’t rescue these victims, whose misery is as visible as it is ignored. But Maggy Krell does.


Krell is a California assistant attorney general who headed up the state’s special crimes unit (think “Special Victims” if this were a television show) and is now running for the state Assembly to represent a district in Sacramento.

“Maggy is first and foremost a prosecutor, but she has a heart for survivors, and she leads with her heart,” Ashlie Bryant told me. Bryant is the founder of 3 Strands Global Foundation, which fights trafficking by educating kids about how it really works, and helping survivors with aid such as job placement.

The first time I wrote about a case that involved Krell, she didn’t want me to use her name. Unlike Ballard, Krell doesn’t seek out publicity.

Like thousands of Central American parents seeking asylum in the United States, Patricia panicked when, after she and her son crossed the Rio Grande into Texas last year, U.S. border agents took the boy away.

July 17, 2019

This was during the era of President Trump, when children were being separated from their parents at the border — kidnapped, really, with no accountability. Krell was chief counsel for Planned Parenthood at the time, but she couldn’t stomach what the government was doing. So she volunteered to help.

She wound up at at the Port Isabel Detention Center near Brownsville, Texas, where she was assigned to help a migrant I’ll call Patricia. Patricia had been separated from her 6-year-old son Alessandro and had no idea where he was or if she would ever see him again.

Krell discovered the government had listed Alessandro as an unaccompanied minor after he arrived at the border, with no connection to Patricia. The only way Krell could locate the child was by searching through all the identification numbers issued to people who were picked up by the Border Patrol on the day the mother and son arrived, and track down the ones handed out just before and after Patricia got hers.


Krell got lucky with that bit of detective work and found Patricia’s son. Then she fought to get them both asylum, then picked Patricia up and drove her to retrieve her child.

I met Alessandro shortly afterward at the Fourth of July parade in my Sacramento neighborhood, where he was riding a bike that Krell got for him. Today, Patricia is legally employed, and Alessandro is thriving.

The next time I wrote about Krell was when she represented Keiana Aldrich, a young woman who was sex trafficked from age 12, imprisoned for a crime related to her sex trafficking, then sexually abused while incarcerated. During the pandemic, with prisons in lockdown and mental health services scarce, Aldrich attempted to end her life.

Keiana Aldrich received a pardon from Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Keiana Aldrich received a pardon from Gov. Gavin Newsom, with Maggy Krell’s help, and has since rebuilt her life after being a victim of sex trafficking at a young age.
(Courtesy of Keiana Aldrich)

Krell helped her get resentenced and released instead.

Like Patricia, Aldrich is now thriving — a hard-working mother of two who sees all life has to offer, for herself and her family.

“Maggy brought everything out of me that is good because I thought I wasn’t going to make it,” Aldrich told me. “She has helped me survive, to be honest, and to this day she still helps me survive. She brings the future out for women.”

Kieana Aldrich was 17 when sent to prison. Her mental health has deteriorated behind bars, but the coronavirus has cut off nearly all help.

Sept. 7, 2020

I could tell you about more cases, some involving sex trafficking and some just about vulnerable women who needed help.

Krell is the attorney credited for shutting down, one of the largest marketplaces for the online sex trade. When Roe vs. Wade was overturned, she came up with a novel legal strategy to help protect women’s online privacy. When an abusive father shot and killed his three daughters in Sacramento, she stepped in to help the mother avoid being deported and enable her family to attend the funeral.

She’s someone who actually saves children, which is why I hope she’s elected to the Assembly. So that she can help California do a better job of saving the girls and boys who are trafficked on our streets, and all the vulnerable people who need help before they find themselves in such dire circumstances.

But it’s also important that we understand what saving children really means by acknowledging Krell and others like her, since the idea has become so corrupted by politics.


After Qanon began to fade in popularity, those who wanted to keep its energy alive morphed the idea of saving trafficked children into protecting all children.

There was a conspiratorial pivot by the far right to focus on LGBTQ+ people, especially transgender people, as dangerous predators — “grooming” kids for harmful purposes. The slogan Save Our Children (there is also a nonprofit called Save Our Children that has been unfairly swept up in this craziness) has now become Leave Our Kids Alone — a skillful political feint that puts fear over reality.

It has positioned itself as an organic parental rights movement, which it is not.

“America’s moms and dads should get a veto over anyone teaching far-left gender ideologies to their children without parental consent,” Trump recently told a cheering crowd, suggesting defunding public schools to stop “indoctrination,” whatever that means. Trump is the headliner at CPAC, its commander in chief of hate.

Meanwhile, kids are still being trafficked — on streets, in cheap hotels, on the internet, in our own neighborhoods.

Like Trump, Tim Ballard will go to his MAGA convention in a few days and likely give a rousing, self-aggrandizing speech — full of how much he cares about kids. Men will cheer and women will weep at the plight of these unknown innocents being swept up into sexual slavery.

But if we really care about saving kids from trafficking, we need to skip the propaganda — and the hate — and support people, like Krell, who want progress, not praise. The people who want kids safe, not politicized.


Because we really should save the children, even when no one is watching.