Safe Haven for Sex Trafficked Girls Coming to Texas

Artist Rendering/The Refuge Ranch

A new therapeutic, $6.5 million, faith-based, 50-acre safe haven for sex trafficked girls aged 11-17 is coming to Texas. It will be the nation’s first and largest long-term comprehensive residential rehabilitative facility of its kind.

“When we talk about domestic victims, we are talking about girls born and raised in the United States and they are trafficked in the United States, often city to city and state to state,” said Brooke Crowder, founder and director of the non-profit Refuge for DMST (Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking) in an interview with Breitbart Texas. Crowder said the project breaks ground in the Austin-area later this month.

“We only have 24 beds for child sex trafficking victims in Texas,” she commented. The Refuge ranch will offer 48 beds, more than at any other facility.

“If Texas only cares for 24, then we are really doing a bad job in our state in caring for our most vulnerable children. It’s not one person’s fault. It’s a broken system and we’ve woken up a little late to the issue. Now, we’ve got to catch up,” she stated, adding there are only 350 residential beds dedicated to child sex trafficking victims nationwide.

The compound is not just a place for girls to recover but to “rebuild” their lives on the 50-acres donated by Refuge board member and Workfront CEO Alex Shootman. It will offer onsite psychological, medical, spiritual, art and equine therapy, plus house a University of Texas-University Charter School to help girls get back on track with their educations.

Unlike foster care where children age out of the system at 18, Crowder said they will have on-site transitional living if a girl is not equipped to leave. “This is incredibly important,” she said. “As you can imagine, children go right back into the arms of the traffickers if they are not ready.”

This is because victims often “trauma-bond” with their abusers, resulting in self-blame, shame, substance abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Crowder said these psychological shackles are difficult to break.

Prior to founding the Refuge for DMST in 2013, Crowder spent four years in Central America working with sex trafficked girls. She moved to Austin in 2010 to work on the problem stateside where it is epidemic. The average age of a sex trafficked girl is 12 years old. “From our vantage point in Central Texas, the cases we’re seeing more and more of are those in the 13-14 year old range,” said Crowder.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) states there is no iron clad way to know the exact number of children missing or sex trafficked domestically as many cases are never reported. In 2010, their former CEO Ernie Allen estimated 100,000 U.S. minors were exploited sexually through prostitution. Last year, the FBI’s National Crime Information Center recorded 460,699 U.S. children as missing while NCMEC cited 1 in 5 of the 11,800 known runaways nationwide as likely sex trafficking victims.

“We do know there are about 7,000 children a year in the state of Texas alone that are trafficked,” said Crowder based on NCMEC figures. In 2011, a Texas juvenile probation reported ballparked this figure at around 3,000.

NCMEC estimated 74 percent of likely sex trafficking victims were in the care of Child Protective Services (CPS) or foster care when they went missing. In 2013, Texas had 30,740 minors in foster care, considered a sizeable at-risk population, according to a Texas Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force guide. This year, Governor Greg Abbott intervened in the state’s trouble protective services, a system Crowder described as “overburdened” by the sheer number of minors in the system.

The state also has a vulnerable underage runaway population. Children at Risk’s 2009 report, The State of Human Trafficking in Texas, called Dallas, Houston, and Austin hotspots for domestic human trafficking because of the many runaway and homeless youth.

Crowder told Breitbart Texas several factors contribute to these girls getting “sucked into” sex trafficking and prostitution. She highlighted the “proliferation of pornography in our culture.” She said, “Children are bought and sold over the internet.”

It can happen to anyone’s child. Predatory sex traffickers look for emotionally vulnerable children to sell in a digital world where parents often do not know who their kids talk to online or who they engage with at the mall. Today, Crowder voiced, families are often “disconnected.”

She said, “You can’t pick up on things with your kids, if you are texting them all day long. It takes putting eyeballs on them, sitting around the dinner table, hear their chatter. You have to stay engaged these days, otherwise there are too many things in our culture out there to damage our children.”

Child sex trafficking is not exclusive to girls. Breitbart Texas recently profiled Liberty Task Force, an East Texas faith-based restorative non-profit for underage boys either at-risk or formerly sex trafficked, many who come from the foster care system.

The Refuge for DMST is funded through the generosity of private and public donors, foundations, and public contributions. They hope to open in May 2017.

Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.


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