For a long time, people rescued from a human trafficking situation in Texas were not assured of a place to stay. The state only had 24 beds available to care for these survivors – 24 beds in a state where, according to a 2016 study by the University of Texas, some 79,000 children were identified as victims of sex trafficking. With such limited options, survivors were sometimes locked up by law enforcement, as a way to protect them from their pimps. This, of course, added to victims’ trauma.
As of this summer, the number of beds available in Texas has tripled, as a new facility called The Refuge opened in Central Texas.
Brooke Crowder is the visionary behind The Refuge – it took her about 10 years to get the project completed. Crowder says the community built The Refuge, and it was created for the nonprofit, Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking. The nonprofit supports the work done at The Refuge. Crowder says the facility is located on a 50-acre ranch in Bastrop County.
“It’s a beautiful setting, very peaceful,” Crowder says. “The 50 acres were donated to us by a family in Austin.”
Young victims of human trafficking come to the ranch via diverse avenues, Crowder says. Law enforcement, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department and the Department of Child Protective Services can all place girls there, who are victims of trafficking.
Crowder says The Refuge is designed to surround trafficking victims with everything they need, after experiencing trauma. They can stay for as long as they need to heal.
“We don’t have a program,” Crowder says. “We have what we call a ‘circle of care,’ and each child’s circle of care is unique to her story, her background, her needs and her trauma level. And so in order to provide that holistic, very comprehensive care, we have all of our services there on site: school, medical care, dental care, great therapy so they can get involved and help them deal with that trauma.”
Crowder says available therapies include equine activities, art and music. These children are housed in small cottages where each resident is given their own bedroom and bathroom, and then becomes part of a smaller community. Crowder says these units function as pseudo-families, while the girls recover. Residents range in age from 11 to 19, and there are 48 beds on the property.
The number of spaces available at The Refuge is dwarfed by the number of people who could benefit from the kind of care provided at the facility. But Crowder says the Bastrop location is a model for future facilities, that could serve other communities in Texas.
“Obviously, you’ve got to start somewhere,” Crowder says. “These are our children, they were born and raised here in the United States, they are in our communities. They could be in school with your own child. It could be your child.”