ST. GEORGE — According to the Maryland-based Samaritan Women – Institute for Shelter Care there is a lack of care facilities across the nation to help children and adults who have been victims of sex trafficking, and Utah is no exception.
In January 2020 The Samaritan Women’s Institute for Shelter Care released research that identified 139 open and actively serving shelter programs in the United States specifically serving victims of domestic sex trafficking. Sixteen states have no specialized shelters, and nine states have one.
Utah has none.
Jeanne Allert, executive director for the institute, told St. George News that in the last year, they have learned that there are only about 1,100 beds across the nation for victims of trafficking.
“There is a huge gap, especially when you compare it to the state of Texas that has identified they have 79,000 children who have been sexually exploited,” Allert said.
The field of shelter care for victims of exploitation is insufficient, she said, lacking qualified research, standards and outcome measures to ensure proper care.
“In Utah there may have been shelters, but we are seeing a very high attrition rate,” Allert said. “People are generally ill-prepared to do this kind of work, and oftentimes we see well-intentioned people who open a shelter, but they are not ready for the level of trauma, the extent of the need, the depth of the services required and frankly the costs involved.”
In 2018, she said, 19 shelters closed across the nation.
Allert said they have been trying to figure out the solution to two big questions.
“How can we close the gap on access to care so that people in need have something close? And how do we improve the quality of care?”
The goal is to not only equip the caregivers but also to develop standards with what is needed to meet the needs of this segment of society, she said.
“We are working on solving the two questions, but it will be several years out,” Allert said, adding that any startup center will need to go through an “extensive'” training process, including business management and learning how to create a foundation for funding and governance, establishing leadership and staffing plans and just learning the nuts and bolts of running an effective organization.
“Our goal during the next five years is planting upwards of 30 new shelters across the country,” she said. “We want to create new programs in states like Utah … as well as building on existing infrastructure already in place.”
In total, Allert said, her dream is to build 20 new shelters and support 24 existing shelters by 2024. This effort will provide services to an estimated 3,150 survivors, both children and adults.
“Training and mentoring these agencies to do this very difficult work requires a significant investment of time and resources, but the social cost of doing nothing is far greater,” Allert said.
“There is so much damage, and some cannot bear carrying that much pain,” she continued. “But this work is worth doing. Early intervention is key. If we can bridge the isolation and have more centers that are equipped … we will no longer be distanced from the darkness of this situation.”
Washington County resident Jennifer’s 11-year-old daughter was trafficked by a family member.
“I never knew she was being pimped out by someone I trusted,” Jennifer said. “When we found out, we thought it would all go away.”
But it didn’t.
At the age of 17, her daughter committed suicide.
“I wish I could have done more,” she said. “We just see the warning signs.”
Allert said the need is great for this population, especially considering the fact that suicide is the No. 1 cause of death among children who have been forced into the sex slave business, and lack of housing for survivors remains the No. 1 need reported by law enforcement and frontline victim service agencies.
Some estimates are that across the globe there are more than 40 million modern-day salves, including more than 2 million children, who are caught in the web of sex trafficking and labor slavery, a number that could be underestimated.
In 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted a three-day nationwide human trafficking sting operation that ended with the rescue of 82 sexually exploited juveniles and the arrests of 239 pimps and other individuals involved in exploiting children, including a girl found in Utah.
The 17-year-old girl had been brought to Utah from another state, according to the FBI.
In June 2014, law enforcement arrested 281 alleged sex traffickers and took 168 children out of prostitution in a nationwide FBI crackdown where many child victims were offered for sale on “escort” and other “adult services” websites.
At the time, the Utah Attorney General’s Office completed the investigation and prosecution of Victor Manuel Rax. The Attorney General’s SECURE Strike Force identified more than 40 male child victims ages 9-15 who were trafficked in drug distribution and sexually abused by Rax.
Overall, the Attorney General’s SECURE Strike Force was involved in the investigation and arrest of 36 targets of human trafficking.
The scope of the problem
- Sex trafficking cases have been identified in every state in the nation.
- The biggest population are women with children, with the average entry into sex trafficking is 11-13 years old.
- The average age of a child who has been trafficked by a family member is usually not identified by ages 14-17; however, studies suggest they can be as young as age 8.
- Approximately 90-94% of sex trafficking victims were victims of childhood sexual abuse.
- According to Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will experience sexual abuse before age 18.
- The U.S. Department of Justice estimates 100,000 American children are at risk for sexual exploitation, as well as an untold number of adults.
The Samaritan Women – Institute for Shelter Care is currently accepting applications for 2020 and will accept up to eight startup agencies selected from across the nation. Application information can be found online.
Report suspected human trafficking to the Utah Attorney General’s Office – 801-200-3443
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