Rescued Children Aren’t Rescued, When There’s “No Room at the Inn”
By Mitzi Perdue
Are you up for some seriously disconcerting statistics? Kristi Wells from the Safe House Project can deliver. Read her answers to some important questions:
- How many children are trafficked for sex in the United States each year?
- “According to the FBI,” says Wells, “the answer is 300,000. If you take all the children who are trafficked in the US each year, they would fill 50 aircraft carriers.
- How many of those 300,000 sex-trafficked children are rescued?
- “According to International Labor Organization, 1% is rescued or makes it out each year.”
- Of the roughly 3000 children who are rescued, how many will be re-trafficked?
- “Without a safe place to go and heal upon escape or rescue, eighty percent of those children end up back in traffickers’ hands and being revictimized, according to the Counter Trafficking Data Collaborative.”
Why Children Are Re-trafficked
In 2017, Wells learned these statistics and was horrified. She also learned a major reason so many children end up being re-trafficked. Relative to the need, provision for rehabilitating children is almost non-existent.
As she researched the facilities that were available for helping sex-trafficked children, she discovered that there were only a handful of restorative care facilities. Altogether, there were less than 100 beds available for long term care.
For her it was no wonder that so many rescued children return to being trafficked. With no place to go, with no education and with only the most limited repertoire of life skills, returning to being trafficked often turned out to be their only option.
Understanding this situation turned out to be life-changing for Wells and Safe House Project co-founder, Brittany Dunn. They realized that, “The only thing standing between slavery and freedom for these children was having a place to heal. Their freedom required our action.”
To deal with this enormous problem, Wells and Dunn founded Safe House Project as a non-profit and the founders left jobs in corporate America to dedicate all their time and resources to increasing the capacity for long term restorative care for these children. The plan wasn’t to create the increased capacity on their own, but rather to help existing organizations do this work.
In 2019 Safe House Project added 32 beds to the national landscape for Child Sex Trafficking Victims to receive care. In 2020 Safe House Project is adding 160 new spaces, systematically doubling the existing capacity and they will not stop until there is a safe house network in every state.
Safe House Project Impact
How has this effort played out in actual practice? Take the example of “Alice.”
Alice (we’re not using her real name) was sex-trafficked from age six to age 11. What may seem astonishing to those of us who don’t normally deal with child abuse, the man who trafficked Alice was her own uncle.
Not only that, her parents colluded with it. They got kickbacks for allowing their daughter’s exploitation.
“Each night,” explains Wells, “Alice’s uncle would scoop her out of her bed and take her next door to his house where she would be sold to men throughout the night.”
“She was a young girl dreaming of loving and protecting her babies, from beneath a man who didn’t care that she was one,” said Wells.
“Eventually her uncle was caught and did hard time,” says Wells. “However, after her rescue, Alice didn’t get any treatment. She was only 11, but she became suicidal, and was addicted to the street drugs she used to blunt the pain she was feeling.”
But then things changed. With the help of a restorative care home, Alice began receiving medical care, detox, therapy, and education in the life skills she needed to start her life anew.
She now has a chance at a close-to-normal life. Without this intervention, there’s a good chance she’d be dead.
The Need is Acute
Although Wells rejoices in stories like Alice’s, she knows that of the estimated 3000 rescued children each year, 99% of those children will not receive the care that they need.
Wells recently spoke with the CEO of an organization that facilitates the rescue of sex trafficking victims who told her, “I can walk out this door right now, and I could rescue five girls, but I’m not going to do it. There’s no place for them to go, and they’ll end up right back with their trafficker.”
This operative looked Wells straight in the eye and stated, “I can’t do my job until you do yours, I need you to give me places to place them and help them heal.”
The need Kristi Wells and Brittany Dunn have uncovered is acute and heartbreaking. The Safe House Project Team, operating across America, are doing everything they can to help meet that need.
If you’d like to join her in this effort, visit her website at: https://www.safehouseproject.org
About The Author
Mitzi Perdue is a businesswoman, author, and Founder of Win This Fight, Stop Human Trafficking Now. She holds a B.A. degree with honors from Harvard University and a Master's from George Washington University. She's a past president of the 40,000 member American Agri-Women, and she was a U.S. Delegate to the United Nations Conference on Women in Nairobi. She was also a Commissioner for the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science. Her Scripps Howard column, The Environment and You, was for years the most widely syndicated environmental column in the U.S.
She is the founder and president of “Win This Fight! Stop Human Trafficking Now,” an organization that raises funds and awareness for other anti-trafficking initiatives.