Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Children rescued from prostitution to get safe house

A child rescued from sex trafficking is not yet a safe one.

There are wounds to heal, particularly psychological ones, from weeks, months, or even years of daily rape and beatings.

There also is the problem of violent and vengeful pimps who won't go quietly into the night.

"They're interested really in that kid not getting to the witness stand," said Celia Williamson, a University of Toledo associate professor of social work and founder of Second Chance, a Toledo group that supports victims of sex trafficking.

Facing the possibility of jail for trafficking girls, pimps may hunt them down in a desperate attempt to escape prosecution.

Threats will be made - burning down a family's house or getting a younger sister involved in prostitution, Ms. Williamson said, noting how victims most at risk of harm are taken to out-of-town foster or group homes.

"[The girls'] lives are often in danger, so we have to ship them away where they have no sense of home.

"And then we say, 'Good luck, I hope your life goes well,'•" she said.

To ease that cycle of trauma, Second Chance, a program of Toledo Area Ministries, is moving forward with plans to open a "safe house" in Toledo for young girls rescued from child prostitution or who are at-risk of being trafficked.

Tentatively set to open in March, the facility would be one of the first of its type in Ohio to focus primarily on girls ages 12 to 17 who are former prostitutes.

The house is to be staffed 24 hours a day by Second Chance staff members, and initially is to provide up to five girls from the Toledo area with services so that they may recover in a supportive environment and slowly reintegrate into school and family life, Ms. Williamson said.

Some girls could stay for more than a year.

The facility also will act as a buffer between victims and their traffickers, who still could be at large or awaiting trial.

The Blade has chosen to not publish the house's location for safety considerations.

Today the Toledo Plan Commission is to consider a request for a special-use permit needed before the facility can open.

Few such safe houses exist in the nation. There are none in Ohio, although plans for facilities in Columbus and Cleveland are taking shape, said Kathleen Davis, a volunteer for the Ohio chapter of the Polaris Project, which combats international human trafficking.

"I can barely name a handful of them in the U.S. that are specifically geared toward children" victims of sex trafficking, said Ms. Davis, who is also director of the Partnership for Human Freedom.

With its proximity to highways and other large Great Lakes cities, Toledo is considered a recruitment hub for the underage sex trade, with teenagers often taken out of state for prostitution.

In 2005, a federal investigation uncovered a child prostitution ring in Harrisburg, Pa., where nine local girls were sold as sex slaves.

At least 12 of the 31 people charged in the case had ties to Toledo.

The idea for a Toledo safe house arose in the aftermath of that case as a suggestion from Lucas County Juvenile Court Judge Denise Cubbon.

Rescued child prostitutes oftentimes have a record of minor offenses such as petty theft, and they could serve juvenile detention in the safe house rather than the Lucas County Juvenile Justice Center, she said.

"These kids have very unique needs," Judge Cubbon said. "It's amazing that our community decided to step up and do something for these young kids instead of turning a blind eye."

The safe house is receiving the bulk of its start-up funds through a three-year, $375,000 grant from the St. Marguerite d'Youville Foundation, said the Rev. Steve Anthony, executive director of Toledo Area Ministries.

Additional funds through the Toledo Community Foundation are expected next year, he said.

Girls are to be placed in the safe house by juvenile court or by Lucas County Children Services, which could direct per diem funds to the facility for the child's care.

Dean Sparks, executive director of children services, said the county has been in preliminary talks regarding the safe home concept, but has yet to work out details.

"I get concerned about a safe place where everyone knows where it is," Mr. Sparks said.

"It won't take long for word to get around where it's at."

Ms. Williamson said the house will be gated, patrolled, and secured with alarms and other features.

Girls are ready to move in as soon as the permit process is complete.

"We have it furnished all the way down to the forks and knives - we're ready," she said.

Contact JC Reindl at:

or 419-724-6065.

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