Austin — The recovery and rehabilitation of sex trafficking survivors is the first step to prosecuting their pimps.
As KVUE reported in November 2017, many traffickers get away with little or no jail time because their victims are often too afraid to speak-out or fall back in to the trap. But, some local non-profit workers intend to change that.
A place to house and help child sex trafficking survivors recover will open its doors soon.
The Refuge Ranch will start counseling girls in August.
As of July 2018, the State of Texas does not have enough resources to help children trapped in the sex trade.
The Refuge will be the largest center for minors in the state and among the largest in the country, with more than 48 beds available.
PHOTOS: Refuge Ranch opens to aid survivors of sex trafficking
“The need is beyond what we imagined,” said Brooke Crowder, Executive Director of The Refuge for DMST. “It is this behemoth system that is broken and what we think our responsibility is to be a resource for that system,” said Crowder.
“I personally have been through that,” said Toni McKinley, a counselor for child sex trafficking survivors. She uses her past trauma to help others.
Bed space in Texas is limited for survivors.
“When we last talk to today, we have had enough phone calls to fill this place and have a waiting list. We are getting calls daily,” said Crowder.
The August opening will be a soft opening while they seek long-term funding.
The Refuge website lists a range of services including a University of Texas Charter School, a partner managed medical clinic, therapeutic programs that include equine, art, music and pet therapy, one-on-one counseling, group therapy with licensed professional therapists, and specially designed cottages providing safety, security, family and community.
“We needed to understand as a community that this is our problem. These are our children,” said Crowder.
It’s taken the community to get to this point. Crowder says there wasn't any state money nor grants used in building this ranch.
“I think the fact that we, we have this sense here at the Refuge ranch that this life really matters and this child deserves the very best from the community to help them rebuild her life,” said Crowder.
Dozens of Central Texas contractors gave material and time.
Local businesses donated the furnishings.
“I have young kids and I just didn’t know the issue was here. So, immediately I thought this was a great opportunity for us to raise awareness that this is happening,” said Charla Adams, Four Hands brand marketing manager.
Four Hands, an Austin-based furniture company, donated furniture to fill two homes and a studio. Workers there also gave games, toys and supplies to help the children.
“For me, I feel honored to be part of this and to be able to provide these things for them,” said Adams.
“This place is incredible. It’s a sanctuary,” said Alex Canoutas, Four Hands.
This church will be more than a place of worship. It's part of a ranch that will help child sex trafficking survivors...
KVUE told you how traffickers rarely get jail time.
“The first and biggest reason really is based on the victim. It’s their story and if we don't have the nerve to tell their story we can't prove it to a jury,” said Abbey Fowler, Travis County assistant district attorney, in November 2017.
Police and prosecutors said the survivors often run away or refuse to be a witness.
“I would like to think (this would help strengthen cases) for two reasons. One, so people can see that these children didn't choose this. They are victims,” said Crowder. “Two, our hope is that part of the healing process is that when they get to that place of strength, they can look back and go, 'I’m going to do something about that. I want justice served against my trafficker.’”
“I’m just imagining looking around what it will be like to sit here as a 14-year-old girl or 15-year-old girl, sitting on this couch or at the table having dinner like a family. That’s all I ever wanted: a family,” said McKinley.
The refuge will seek state money to help run the facility.
Until they get permanent sustainable funding, they’ll have empty bed space.
Refuge workers estimate the cost to house, feed, educate and counsel a child is $450 a day.
If you would like to learn more about the center, how to donate or how to volunteer, click here.
To watch our coverage on this issue, start here.
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