By Presidential Proclamation, January is known as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. The goal is to raise awareness of heinous crimes against humanity, including children. Human traffickers generate billions of dollars by enslaving individuals through coercion, violence, blackmail, and other manipulative tactics, forcing victims to provide labor or services against their will, including commercial sex. This degradation of human dignity is prevalent throughout the world, including communities across America. And Texas is no exception.
According to the U.S. Department of State, there are 300,000 children lured into the commercial sex trade each year in the United States. Surprisingly, roughly 150,000 of them are boys.
Enter Bob Williams, founder, and CEO of Ranch Hands Rescue Counseling Center and Animal Sanctuary in Argyle. Bob initiated the nonprofit more than a decade ago to pair abused and neglected animals (the worst-of-the-worst) with individuals suffering from complex trauma, resulting in unconventional and hugely successful therapy for both man and beast. Bob had always planned to add a safe house to the center as a separate facility, possibly for treating veterans. But after learning of the alarming lack of support and aid for male sex trafficking victims, he had to get involved.
“I refer to these boys as the unseen survivors, because of the stigma associated with sex trafficking,” Bob said.
Bob’s House of Hope will be the country’s first nonprofit long-term safe house exclusively for male survivors of commercial sexual exploitation between the ages of 18-24. Why that age range?
“We believe younger victims are better off in a secure foster home rather than an institutional home, where they might still receive love in a family environment toward their recovery,” Bob explained. “Older victims, those 18 and into their 20s, are considered adults. But after multiple years of being victimized by abuse, emotionally they’re maybe 14 or 15 and need help and love, too, but in a more structured treatment environment.”
The house is being converted from what used to be Ranch Hands Rescue’s headquarters (on Hwy 77 between Denton and Argyle) into Bob’s House of Hope. Residents will be part of a two-year, long-term trauma care program, providing six young men with 24-hour care seven days a week in a
“These kids have been through intense trauma,” Bob said. “We’re trying to take what might require years of therapy and compress it into two.”
In addition, residents will be offered a mentoring program led by male and female veterans, vocational training such as woodworking, and furthering their education. By employing the same animal-assisted therapy as the counselors at Ranch Hands Rescue, working with the animals will be an integral part of therapy and recovery for these young men.
Law officers and government agencies phone Bob weekly with requests to take in young sexual exploitation survivors. The majority of residents selected for the safe house will be referred by law enforcement.
Bob’s House of Hope is scheduled to open in mid-February. Hopefully, it will serve as a model for other cities so that young victims everywhere might have a place of healing they can turn to.
“We need people to get involved and join our fight,” Bob implored. “If we build it, I just know people will support it.”
photo courtesy of Helen’s Photography