AUSTIN - Eight times a day: that’s how often a sex trafficking victim says women and children are typically sold.
The Safe Alliance wants to stop that and is the first organization in Central Texas to create a program to specifically help victims of trafficking.
"If you don't have a specific program that is designed for that population, it can be really hard to engage them from services,” said Kari Hamilton, the senior director of residential and cares services at SAFE.
They just got three grants that total more than $1.5 million dollars to start the program. It is money they hope can help stop the human sales.
Lisa Pous is a survivor.
"I guess really I was born into domestic violence,” said Pous.
At a young age, she said sexual abuse was all around her.
"Whether it was my friend's dad, the people at school, like it was just everywhere. And by the time I had started running away looking for safety, and seeking safety other places, there weren't really any other places for a young child to find safety,” said Pous.
She ran away from home, looking for safety.
"I was always looking for another place to survive and to be safe, and to be okay, and to have people like me the way that I was,” said Pous.
Instead, she fell into sex trafficking.
"By the time I was 16, I was picked up here in Austin, and taken through Arizona,” said Pous.
According to a University of Texas study, there are almost 80,000 children trafficked for sex each year just in Texas.
"We're not identifying correctly all the times trafficking is survivor sex, familiar, and it's in the streets, and it's this way. We're not able to identify it, so I would say these numbers are small,” said Pous.
"Everyone's finally seeing the need, which is unfortunate because we know this has been going on for years, and years, and years,” said Hamilton.
She told KVUE, The SAFE Alliance is launching a new program called SAFE Cares, which stands for collaboration, advocacy, response, and engagement for survivors.
It aims to specifically help sex trafficking victims and is made possible with the help of grant money from the Criminal Justice Division of the Governor’s office.
They have three separate grants that total $1,579,236.20 over two years (June 2017-May 2019).
"I think it's finally just coming to a boiling point where everyone is realizing yeah this is an issue,” said Hamilton.
The program is broken down into three parts.
First, an advocacy program, that pairs a survivor with someone trying to get out.
That's something Pous said is necessary.
"It's the idea that someone else has a shared lived experience: that we might understand, some of the things that most of the society doesn't understand,” said Pous.
"To immediately connect them with an individual where they can really honestly, just have a person,” said Hamilton.
Second, it would create specialized foster care, finding families specially trained to care for victims of sex trafficking.
"It's hard because of their trauma, and it makes it extremely difficult to keep people in their lives and keep strong relationships,” said Hamilton. "The trauma that our individuals and youth have been through just seems to be increasing. The lack of placement is contributing to this as well, and we're having more and more runners. We're having those that are out in the streets."
And third, a drop in center, which will be part of a partnership with Life Works on the Pleasant Valley location. It will be a place where victims can get help without required boundaries.
"We're going to meet every survivor where they're at, instead of creating a program that this is our box, and we need you to fit into our box,” said Hamilton.
That’s something Pous said really sets this program apart.
"When you go into services and we've been running our lives, and they want us to put lights out at 9,” said Pous. "I was in and out of systems: child protective services, halfway houses, none of it really fit. They had very directive and not person-centered compassionate models, and I felt punished rather than rescued."
"They don't always succeed in a shelter. They don't always succeed in a residential treatment facility. They don't want to be in a lockdown,” said Hamilton.
They hope the program will change the future for victims who know the past of Pous, all too well.
"I wonder what my life would have been like had people identified something, or named something, and I would have been able to trust them,” said Pous.
A trust, they hope will begin at SAFE.
"These aren't short walks; these are long journeys,” said Pous.
Pous now serves as a peer specialist at SAFE, and is launching her own organization “Survivors Rising Up.”
"Today I live a wonderful life, and I'm out of violence and have been for several years,” said Pous.
They're slowly starting services this month, but the program won't officially launch until December.
But, if you are a victim of sex trafficking or domestic violence, you can call SAFE for help now.
Survivors can contact 24/7 SAFEline at (512) 267-SAFE (7233) or the SAFEline chat
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