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Nation’s first safe house for male sex trafficking survivors addresses gaps in current services

Nation’s first safe house for male sex trafficking survivors addresses gaps in current services

Nation’s first safe house for male sex trafficking survivors addresses gaps in current services
February 24
13:30 2022

Bob’s House of Hope is the nation’s first safe house for male survivors of sex trafficking and works toward filling the gaps that continue to exist in trafficking survivor services.

“We recognize that prevention is just as important as intervention,” said Landon Dickeson, executive director and director of clinical services at Ranch Hands Rescue. “Once something terrible has happened, we need some postvention. Something that comes afterward to support everyone impacted by it, so that we can have that become prevention.”

The nonprofit safe house, an extension of RHR, is named in a new Denton County Commissioners Court proclamation recognizing National Human Trafficking Awareness Month to heighten the need for aid to survivors. 

“It’s been very heartbreaking to see that the need is so overwhelming because we’re still getting two or three calls a week from people looking for services,” Dickeson said. “A lot of them are reaching out themselves, some through other agencies or through law enforcement. Finding them a place to go has been a tremendous challenge and a heartbreaking one.”

The safe house was at full capacity by the end of the month when it opened in June 2021. At the Jan. 25 commissioners court meeting, Dickeson said that an expansion is expected to serve a range of 20-30 men by the end of this year.

Since 2019, 13.5 percent of sex-trafficked boys have been identified by international nonprofit Love146’s programs in the U.S. and the Philippines, but the organization also highlights research that suggests the number of boys could be as high as 30-50 percent. Dickeson believes that “50 percent of trafficked youth are males” based on a literature analysis conducted by RHR. He also said there is a 40 percent rate of arrests made by law enforcement throughout the country on stings for men seeking boys under the age of 15.

“There’s a long way to go [because] people still don’t truly understand how and why [male individuals become trafficked],” said Jose Alfaro, a human trafficking survivor and activist. “That’s why I’m still speaking out and trying to reach as many people as possible because there are many people that still don’t believe that this is happening to males.”

Both RHR and BHOH started a #BOYSTOO bi-weekly virtual series, running from Feb. 17 to May 5, to spread awareness and lead discussions on male sex trafficking, as well as the general topic of human trafficking. One of the speakers that spoke at the start of the series was Alfaro.

“Had there been a place like Bob’s House of Hope, it would have kept me from a lot of the trouble that I had gotten in the seven years when I wasn’t able to identify as a trafficking survivor,” Alfaro said. “I truly believe in what they’re doing and I see a huge need for a place like Bob’s House of Hope. Especially since there aren’t any [other] houses that are specifically for males and open to having LGBTQ trauma survivors.”

Texas holds the second-highest rates of reported cases of human trafficking in the nation, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. A 2016 study mapping human trafficking in Texas found an estimated over 300,000 victims of human trafficking with approximately 79,000 minors as victims of commercial sexual exploitation, according to the Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assult at the University of Texas at Austin.

Polaris, a nonprofit that fights sex and labor trafficking, identified that traffickers take advantage of vulnerabilities of possible victims due to “to massive failings in a range of systems” that the government is supposed to aid in like housing and health care.

“It’s important that people realize that this is a systemic issue,” Alfaro said. “We need to make changes to the systems in place so that we can support vulnerable youth and avoid this from happening to any human. […] It’s important that these systems [of support] should be in place [to] actually protect each and every person that’s out there.”

The U.S. Coalition for the Homeless identified that homeless LGBTQ+ individuals are at greater risk of being physically and sexually exploited than other homeless youth. Local nonprofit Unbound North Texas focuses on prevention education aimed to help young people identify the vulnerabilities that put them at risk for exploitation and trafficking recruitment. It has “trained tens of thousands of students” and expects to educate over 60,000 students in Fort Worth Independent School District by the end of 2023, said Brad Walcher, director of development and communications at Unbound.

“It’s really an amazing program [because] we’ll see youth come forward in these training and disclose their own exploitation,” Walcher said. “They usually don’t know that they’re being exploited, so we give them the words to help them self-identify what might be happening in their own life or in their own home. They come forward with an outcry like this and can get help as a result.”

When the opening of BHOH made national news, Dickeson received an unexpected phone call from a close friend who shared his own trafficking story.

“[…] That abuse that he suffered was one that he had kept hidden for years,” Dickeson said. “[…] Seeing us open this house and giving legitimacy and voice to something that he had suffered and buried, because of the social stigma, [led him] to counseling [and] acknowledging what happened. He said it just gave him an incredible amount of hope […] to know that somebody is taking this seriously enough to actually invest in opening a house to treat it.”

Courtesy Bob’s House of Hope

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Jeffrey Ruiz

Jeffrey Ruiz

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