How do we get them away from their pimp? That’s the first question.
Steven Goff is with the Center to End Trafficking and Exploitation of Children. He says that child victims either run away or are thrown out of their homes. These kids are brainwashed and become extremely attached to their captors.
"The pimps tell these kids, 'If you’re going to get picked up, the police aren’t on your side the system isn’t on your side. They’re the enemy, you’re just going to be put in a juvenile detention center and have all your stuff taken away, and you’re going to be treated like a criminal.' And that’s exactly what happens."
So even though these girls are being sold for sex, they are unwilling to leave their pimps because they know they’ll be charged with prostitution. Especially if they’re between 14 and 17. That’s because of a 2010 law that ruled children under the age of 14 cannot legally consent to sex. After 14 though, they can end up in juvenile detention.
Sometimes imprisoning them is the only way police can actually tear them away from their captors.
"They are loyal to their pimps. So when law enforcement rolls up and they try to get the kid away from the pimp, the kid doesn’t want to leave most of the time.
So that’s where Houston’s new safe house provides a middle ground to attract these girls. It’s not juvenile detention. It’s not a life of being trafficked. It’s not returning to an unstable home they’ve run away from. It’s literally that, a safe house.
Kellie Armstrong of Arrow Child and Family Ministries is working to open Freedom Place, the first facility of its kind in Texas. A facility so protected that officials aren’t even disclosing its location.
"It will be an immediate safe haven that law enforcement can drop the children off when they’re rescued from trafficking. It’s a secure location. It’s a very serene background that’ll hopefully provide a lot of healing for the girls. It’s kind of, back to nature, you could say."
Armstrong says their first priority is meeting basic needs like food, clothing, and medical care. After that comes the most important thing that these girls have missed out on — a childhood. This is why the safe house location is a former summer camp.
"Every component of — we call them life domain areas – are important for them to recover wholly. And so, play is very important. These girls were robbed of their childhood. We have a playground set, and I know it might seem a little weird, why you would have a playground for teenage girls. But many of them didn’t have the opportunity to swing in a swing, or to go down a slide. It just gives them the opportunity to rebuild some of those childhood memories, that’s absolutely important as you go through life."
The facility will start with just 30 girls, but Armstrong says there’s definitely room to expand and with the help of donations they hope that expansion will happen sooner rather than later.