Meeting the Needs of Sex Trafficking Survivors

By Ashika Sethi

One seemingly small act of grace can be astronomical for a child who’s been abused or neglected. For Sofia, that small act of grace kept her from living in a situation where she was abused and disrespected.

Sofia is a survivor of sex trafficking. After coming into care as a teenager, Sofia had a habit of running away and being kicked out of her relatives’ homes, some of whom repeatedly shamed Sofia for her sexuality and her past traumatic trafficking experiences.

It was clear Sofia desperately needed a safe, dedicated and consistent place to call home.

After months of constant placement changes, CASA worked with a local shelter for survivors of abuse that is often difficult to get into because of the number of survivors in need to open up a bed for Sofia. As of today, Sofia hasn’t run away and is continuing to attend school and regular therapy sessions.

This is a huge step forward in the process of healing for Sofia.

Sex trafficking is a massive and insidious problem nationwide, and in Texas, the resources for survivors are few and far between. There are almost 79,000 minor and youth victims of sex trafficking in Texas alone, according to the Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault at The University of Texas at Austin. In Texas, there are few organizations that have dedicated services for survivors of sex trafficking and even fewer for survivors who are minors.

Approximately 60% of all victims of sex trafficking have had a history with Child Protective Services.

“Children in the foster care system are much more vulnerable,” says Toni McKinley, Therapeutic Director at The Refuge, one of the only long-term, live-in rehabilitation facilities for child survivors of sex trafficking in the United States. “When [a child] is moving from house to house and feels misunderstood, they’re more likely to run away, and often meet up with a pimp in less than 24 hours.”

“My biggest concern is if we really want to try to reduce this rate of not only runaways in the foster care system but also their vulnerability, we really need to train foster care parents a lot better on trauma,” says McKinley.

At The Refuge, which opens in early 2018, some of the trauma-informed practices include having a continuum of care, which incorporates several different health services with varying levels of intensity of care in order to provide thorough support for survivors. The Refuge is seeking trauma-informed therapists in a wide array of concentrations in order to help the young women who come into their care distance themselves from their extremely painful memories and triggers so that they are more receptive to the healing process.

McKinley emphasizes how dire the necessity for healing is for child survivors of sex trafficking.

“People are already calling to see if The Refuge is open and sometimes they aren’t able to find another option,” says McKinley. “We really need a place for these girls to go.”

We need more organizations like The Refuge to support the 79,000 child survivors of sex trafficking in Texas. We need more organizations dedicated to healing sex trafficking survivors like Sofia who have had a history with the foster care system. These organizations are imperative in the fight to keep our children safe.

Advocacy October 2017

Get involved now