AUSTIN, Texas — Editor's note: The related video was published in September.

On Wednesday, The Refuge for DMST (domestic minor sex trafficking) announced its partnership with the Department of Psychiatry at the Dell Medical School the University of Texas to help improve the lives of young survivors of sex trafficking. 

As a part of the collaboration, two senior Department of Psychiatry faculty members, Jeffrey Newport, MD, and Valerie Rosen, MD, will oversee psychopharmacological and evidence-based psychotherapeutic treatment, respectfully. Also, a senior psychiatry resident will provide weekly psychiatric services. As a whole, the team will conduct diagnostic assessment and psychiatric treatment planning for child survivors now living at The Refuge Ranch.

The Dell Med team is led by Charles B. Nemeroff, MD, PhD, a professor and acting chair for the Department of Psychiatry and Director of the Institute for Early Life Adversity Research. The team will plan research with The Refuge Ranch staff to understand the needs of young trafficking survivors.

As a part of their research, experts will follow the child survivors at The Refuge Ranch for the next 1.5 to 2 years, from when they are first admitted, to their discharge, then during their transition from The Refuge Ranch to a new living environment. Data will be collected during this time to determine the effectiveness of different trauma-focused therapies and to pinpoint the best predictors of treatment response.

“The Refuge is an extraordinary resource, a one-of-a-kind facility for treating those who have experienced trafficking and is unique in the nation for its current level of care,” said Dr. Nemeroff. “This is an extremely vulnerable group of young people who have significant health needs stemming from trauma. Understanding those particular needs requires research that’s carefully conducted with appropriate safeguards in place to protect these young women during their recovery.”

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“Our goal is to provide the very best care available for child survivors of sex trafficking,” said Brooke Crowder, CEO and founder of The Refuge for DMST. “With faculty from Dell Med rounding out our psychiatric care, The Refuge Circle of Care that wraps around each girl is complete. Through research collaboration, we also see the potential to gather empirical data about a population that has been hard to study. Trafficked children frequently run away as a self-defense mechanism and it’s hard to turn off, even when they feel safe. The Refuge Ranch is a place where the girls can finally turn off that hyper-aware state of fight-flight-or-freeze and be a kid again. In this safe environment, psychiatrists can help us to assess what treatments work best. This ground-breaking data could help other facilities work with their state legislatures to inform policy decisions. With empirical data in front of them, it should be easier for states to help the most vulnerable children in the child welfare system.”

At the Ranch, staff use "The Refuge Circle of Care" method, which they say provides treatment for survivors with trauma-focused programs that focus on their unique psychological, physical, educational, social, spiritual needs, while also improving community connections with relatives, and teaching independent living and job skills.

The new psychiatric services provided by Dell Med added to existing services at the ranch, including weekly one-on-one therapy sessions with in-house licensed therapists specializing in developmentally adaptive cognitive processing therapy (D-CPT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), plus eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, sand tray therapy, experiential therapy, equine therapy and more, based on their individual needs.

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The victims will also have time to participate in group therapy with other survivors. In addition, the ranch provides art, farming/agricultural activities, gardening, yoga, dance, self-defense, music and more, plus daily enrichment options for self-regulation and body awareness.

The Refuge Ranch is the largest long-term, live-in rehabilitation facility for child survivors of sex trafficking in the nation.

All staff at the ranch are trained in trust-based relational intervention (TBRI), and they get other ongoing training specific to the care of child survivors of sex trafficking.

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