Judge Janis Jack is at it again after finding out that the department that was supposed to be helping children was sex trafficking them. The Refuge located in Bastrop and contracted by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services is being investigated for sex trafficking.
“The problem goes beyond just finding these kids. She says there are only 26 beds across the entire state of Texas for any child that needs to go to a foster care placement who has been trafficked. There are 350 beds across the U.S”, Dixie Hairston, the Anti-Trafficking Coordinator at Children at Risk said.
Judge Jack asked if the governor knew about this and apparently he is aware though there are still people contracted with Texas that have not been arrested yet. Governor Greg Abbott ordered an immediate investigation by the Texas Rangers and directed the Rangers to arrest and pursue criminal charges against anyone who took part in the abuse.
“The reports of child sex trafficking at The Refuge in Bastrop are abhorrent,” Governor Abbott said. “Child abuse of any kind won’t be tolerated in the state of Texas, and we are committed to ensuring these despicable perpetrators are brought to justice and punished to the fullest extent of the law.”
But the identities of the suspects have not yet been made public and Rich Richman, DFPS associate commissioner for child protective investigation, told the court the children weren’t immediately removed from the facility because investigators thought the person responsible had been fired. Come to find out though, there is more than one person involved and the children were left to the sex traffickers even after the reports were made.
Hairston says, “What we need to do right now is figure out a way that we can get these kids services as soon as they are recovered. The lack of resources means that these kids end up placed in other state programs that are not appropriate for the trauma they have experienced. This is happening to the most vulnerable children in our community. If law enforcement goes out, they do a sting operation and they do recover a child, where are they going to take them after they recover them. There are just not those places out there”.
Some advocates are asking lawmakers to further fund Child Protection Services to it can hire specialized caseworkers who deal with only foster kids who have been sex trafficked. The problem there, is that city report after city report have been reporting that children are being sex trafficked from places like the Refuge for years now. 88% of children rescued in sex trafficking operations were trafficked from state custody!
An emergency discussion held Thursday alleges that nine predators contracted by Texas abused seven children ages 11 to 17. “The children remained in the facility for over a month after the abuse was first reported before they were removed”.
The Refuge Ranch in Bastrop is supposed to serve girls between the ages of 11 to 17, but instead is said to be trafficking them. More arrests are expected and DFPS heard from alleged victims of sexual abuse, making commercially sexual exploitation material, physical abuse, neglect, and medical neglect, selling nude photos of two youths in their care, buying illegal drugs and alcohol to give to the youth, and other things that they say happened at the horrific Refuge Ranch. The Bastrop County Sheriff’s Office is investigating.
Eight alleged sex trafficked victims say that they were trafficked by the same ex-employee, but the investigation shows that the ex-employee is related to several people that still work there that may be involved.
Courtney Trujillo, the residential care director supposedly knows that the children complained about sexual abuse by employees and for some reason the people they say abused them still work there. CPS staff and off-duty law enforcement were deployed to the facility and stayed there until all youths were removed on March 9. That means the children were at the ranch for over a month after they reported that they were abused!
Background on The Refuge Ranch
The Refuge Ranch was opened in August 2018 by Brooke Crowder, who at the time had spent 25 years in the nonprofit world, according to previous reporting from KXAN. The ranch is part of the larger organization, The Refuge for Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking, which launched in November 2013, according to its website. The website also claims the ranch is the “largest, long-term, live-in rehabilitation facility for child survivors of sex trafficking in the United States.” It was intended to protect the privacy and safety of the girls and staff, while providing housing, music and pottery rooms, science classrooms, an equine therapy program, a chapel and medical care.
Crowder released the following statement Thursday night after news reports of the DFPS investigation were published:
“We understand and respect an over-abundance of need and caution for DFPS to get to the bottom of the facts and we have cooperated fully with DFPS since two un-related events were brought to our attention. The authorities know we acted promptly and swiftly and in full compliance with the law. We work with the most vulnerable population and we care deeply for each of the 70 girls that have been in our care since we opened in 2018. Every girl that comes to The Refuge has her own unique life story, but each one endured the horrible trauma of child sexual exploitation. Our hearts are broken and we are outraged by the actions of former employees whose intent was to harm, not help. While we are limited in what we can say in order to protect the confidentiality of the girls, I know that the truth will prevail. We are looking forward to a positive resolution from these investigations, and we are confident that we will be providing child survivors of sex trafficking with excellent care for years to come.”
Past issues with background checks at the Refuge Ranch.
But KXAN investigators say that there have been issues before with the Refuge Ranch that were discovered in the Texas Health and Human Services Commission compliance records that show previous issues with background checks on employees at The Refuge.
One record from June of 2021 shows that “one staff member was working with a provisional background check and had a condition to ‘not be left alone with a child or group of children”. However the record shows that this same employee worked nights alone with the children. Other employees were not “inactivated” after being terminated, and in January 2022, state inspectors noted three violations over record-keeping for prescription medications. But HHSC records do not indicate any direct link to the latest investigation into The Refuge.
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