BASTROP COUNTY, Texas -- There are 79,000 young Texans who are being sold for sex, according to a study released this year by the University of Texas at Austin.
A local group called The Refuge for Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking wants to decrease the number dramatically by creating a sanctuary for survivors, called The Refuge Ranch.
The concrete and construction in a secluded part of Bastrop County will soon become a place for rest and restoration. The 48 residents of The Refuge Ranch in Bastrop County will be living in one of the 12 cottages, taking part in counseling, getting access to therapy, and going to school.
“Almost all of them have had their education interrupted in some way,” said Brooke Crowder, founder of The Refuge for DMST.
The 50-acre space will be home for female survivors ages 11 to 19.
“Just the trauma of having that violation by multiple people over and over, often in very violent ways, it’s amazing that girls even make it out alive," Crowder said. "But when they do, they really need complex and comprehensive care.”
The girls can stay for as long as they need. Each girl will have their own room and bathroom as well as a shared space with other survivors. The goal is to provide personalization and ownership, which they lacked.
They will also able to access a wide range of programming. The ranch will include a creative arts center and will offer music and art therapy. There are plans to build a studio and includes space for a movie theater, a workout room, and a place for pet therapy. Equine therapy will also be available as part of the comprehensive curriculum to teach the girls life skills.
“The goal is really not only to really help them get healing in their life from being trafficked, but keep them out of that life," said Toni McKinley, the director of therapeutic services, who is also a survivor. "It’s very easy to go back in when you’re not stable financially and emotionally.”
The Refuge Ranch is working to be a safe and secure space where girls will be able to rebuild their ability to trust in people again. Each resident will have three house mates and a house mother who can help develop a sense of community and a support structure. There will also be a separate building for guests, so girls can stay connected to family or foster family members during their recovery.
“Our hope is that as they leave the refuge, they have eyes of hope for a future, a future that they can contribute to society, that they can have families if they want to, that they can have whatever career they want to," Crowder said.