July 17, 2012 — Texas' first privately run safe house for minors who are victims of sex trafficking recently opened and is sheltering seven girls, the New York Times reports.
The staff of Freedom Place arrange counseling, schooling and recreational activities for trafficking survivors. The facility -- which can house up to 30 residents -- sits on a wooded, 110-acre site in an undisclosed location outside of Houston.
Approaches to combatting sex trafficking in Texas have shifted since the state Supreme Court in 2010 ruled that domestic minors younger than 14 who are involved in prostitution should be considered victims rather than criminals. However, because the victims are oftentimes distrustful or have been manipulated by their traffickers, many try to run away, meaning that they must be placed in secure facilities. This has led to victims being charged with crimes such as drug possession or truancy to avoid situations where they are released back to the street.
At Freedom Place, residents are checked on by staff every 15 minutes. The facility is run by Arrow Child and Family Ministries, but religious activities are optional for residents. The safe house has a $1.8 million budget for the first year, mostly from private donations and grants. Each girl currently living there likely will stay for nine to 18 months.
At least one similar facility is being planned in Dallas County. The Letot Center, as part of a public-private partnership, is raising funds for a 96-bed residence (Foxhall, New York Times, 7/14).
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