Expected to open next year, an Austin, Texas shelter should have beds for up to 30 girls from across Central Texas who are sex trafficking survivors.
Larry Megason, executive director of Restore Voice, says the greater challenge has been developing a care and treatment plan to empower the survivors the shelter seeks to serve — girls ages 12 to 17 who have long fallen under the radar, as anti-trafficking resources have largely been devoted to victims kidnapped or lured into the United States from other countries.
These girls have typically faced two options if discovered: time in juvenile detention or placement within the catchall net of the foster care system, which across the state, has meant shelters and temporary homes under Child Protective Services. Those places are not equipped to handle the complex trauma endured by trafficking survivors, many of whom were sexually abused by family members long before they were exploited by strangers.
A report by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has found that 20 percent of all 800,000 victims trafficked in the United States for sex or labor pass through the state. “We are just in a period of exploration as far as needs assessment,” said Noël Bridget Busch-Armendariz, a social work associate professor and director at the Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault at the University of Texas. “If you are a foreign-born victim, the response is much more swift, your safety net is tightly woven, but if you are a domestic victim, that net still has a lot of holes.”
U.S.-born children and teens are just as vulnerable to a multimillion-dollar sex trade that has become more widespread with the use of the Internet. But the population has been neglected because it has been harder to identify, and such minors are tied to the trade through relationships with their pimps that are much more psychologically and emotionally binding, counselors said. They are manipulated or coerced to “see prostitution as a way to survive in a system that has failed them, as their own way to remain independent,” said Ellen Parsons, a counselor at LifeWorks, a youth advocacy center in South Austin.
Learn more at Jazmine Ulloa’s Statesman.com article: Austin shelter for sex trafficking survivors under development.