Child Sexual Abuse, Sex Trafficking, And Foster Care: Is There A Link?

Child welfare monitors appointed by the courts found "ample evidence" that former sex trafficking victims were abused at The Refuge, a foster care facility in Bastrop, Texas. The findings contradict those of the Texas Rangers' earlier findings. The monitors' report was filed as part of a lawsuit over foster care in Texas.

According to the monitors, after they reviewed thousands of documents and recordings, they found evidence to substantiate allegations of child sex abuse, exploitation, neglectful supervision and physical abuse at The Refuge Ranch.

The monitors also called a letter sent from Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw to the Texas governor, which stated there was no evidence children at the shelter were sexually abused or trafficked, "was, at best, premature" because the investigation continues.

According to shelter leaders at The Refuge, two of the facility's residents reported that one of their caretakers offered them drugs in exchange for them taking nude pictures of themselves. The alleged perpetrator was fired after the initial report, according to Refuge leaders. He is also under criminal investigation, according to McCraw's letter to the governor.

Shortly after the incident became public in a federal court hearing, the governor ordered the Texas Rangers to investigate. The shelter has also been temporarily ordered to close.

Investigators also found that staff members were accused of helping children to run away from the facility. According to McCraw's letter, four employees were fired and are also being investigated. Another employee has also been arrested for lying to the FBI.

McCraw's initial findings were released less than a week after The Texas Rangers started its investigation. McCraw wrote, "There were no allegations or evidence that these residents were sexually abused or assaulted by anyone." According to the monitors' report, at least one child victim was not interviewed by a Texas Ranger, "until well after the DPS letter became public, and that the child was upset by the Rangers' conclusions."

The monitors wrote in their report that there were repetitive "managerial lapses" and serious risks to the children's safety, and concluded with a confirmation that there is sufficient evidence of violations to child safety. It stated further that there is "a strong possibility of human trafficking based on staff's inducement of children to sell nude photographs in exchange for drugs."

Reese Oxner "Child welfare monitors say there's "ample evidence" kids were abused at Bastrop foster care facility, disputing Texas Rangers" (Mar. 29, 2022).

Commentary and Checklist

According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, as September 30, 2019, there were approximately 423,997 children in foster care. These children range from newborns to 21. On average, they will remain in state care for more than a year.

A John Hopkins University study of a group of foster children in Maryland found that children in foster care are four times more likely to be sexually abused than their peers who are not in foster care. And, in 2013, more than 50 percent of child sex trafficking victims recovered through FBI raids across the U.S. were from foster care or group homes.

Alert adults can help children who are being trafficked by being observant and by reporting what they observe to law enforcement or child protection authorities.

What are some of the signs, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, that a child may be being trafficked for sex?

  • "Chronic runaway/homeless youth
  • Excess amount of cash in their possession (may be reluctant to explain its source)
  • Hotel keys and key cards
  • Lying about age/false ID
  • Inconsistencies when describing and recounting events
  • Unable or unwilling to give local address or information about parent(s)/guardian
  • Presence or fear of another person (often an older male or boyfriend who seems controlling)
  • High number of reported sexual partners at a young age
  • Sexually explicit profiles on social networking sites
  • Injuries/signs of physical abuse (that they may be reluctant to explain)
  • Inability or fear of social interaction
  • Demeanor exhibiting fear, anxiety, depression, submissiveness, tenseness, nervousness
  • Is not enrolled in school or repeated absence from school
  • Does not consider self a victim
  • Loyalty to positive feelings toward pimp/trafficker
  • May try to protect trafficker from authorities.
  • Prepaid cell phone"
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