New facility to help sex trafficking victims heal

February 28, 2012 8:22:58 PM PST
It is every city's dirty little secret, and in big city's like Houston, sex trafficking is a bigger problem.

In fact, the U.S. Department of Justice ranks Houston as one of the most intense trafficking regions in the country. But what to do with child victims of this terrible crime?

We found a place soon-to-be instrumental in the healing process. For security purposes, we've agreed not to disclose its location but we went there to see where these former sex slaves will reclaim their lives.

On 110 acres in the woods north of Houston, sits a place where Kellie Armstrong hopes girls can be girls again.

"We have a school building, we have the main house," said Armstrong, the executive director of Freedom Place. "This will provide hopefully a sense of just peace."

Welcome to Freedom Place, a soon-to-be safe haven for pre-teens and teens rescued from the local sex trade.

"We want them to have an opportunity for them just to feel safe, get the fog, let the fog lift out of their minds so they can focus on themselves and what they need to be whole again," Armstrong said.

The vision is about a year and a half old; it's the work of Arrow Child and Family Ministries of Spring and based on other homes across the country, although this will be the first of its kind in Texas.

"These are very, very vulnerable children," Armstrong said.

According to national runaway studies, there are 6,000 runaways in the Houston area each year. A third are reportedly lured into sex trafficking.

"This is a huge problem," said Laura Lederer, a nationally recognized expert on the subject.

And few cities, says Lederer, know what to do with the children when these operations are broken up.

"They are victims but unfortunately until very recently, we treated them like criminals and I think that's still happening in many cities across the United States," she said.

In fact, most girls rounded up in raids like this one in east Houston last year are sent to juvenile detention simply because there's no other option.

Freedom Place is trying to change that.

"They need a safe place that they can go," Armstrong said.

Volunteers are now applying the last coats of paint, and the rooms are ready.

"We've really girlified it," Armstrong said.

The facility is set to open in April, providing a home-like environment with school and therapy all within a few feet.

"Our goal is for them to experience overall healing," Armstrong said.

They're trying to help the child victims make the transition from the streets to a better future easier.

Freedom Place gets no public money so it relies solely on donations, even down to the food in the kitchen.