Vital Houston-area nonprofit teaches trafficked girls how to trust again
Domestic child sex trafficking is a cruel reality of the modern world, and it happens right in our backyard. Despite popular belief, the rescue isn’t the end of the story. Recovery is a very trying and brutal process. That’s why organizations like Freedom Place are so important.
The first 30 days of the recovery process are the most vital: It’s when girls at Freedom Place learn how to trust other people again.
"The stress these girls have experienced is unimaginable," says Freedom Place director Shandra Carter. "When you see the campus it’s so beautiful and serene, but the girls can’t trust the calm. History has told them that when it’s quiet and calm, it’s usually followed by something really bad."
To help its residents, Freedom Place employs several types of therapy, from animal-based (canine and equine) to art, music, and even a ropes course. This is in addition to the individual and group sessions conducted by licensed clinical therapists that they also receive.
Freedom Place is one of the few programs in the nation to use a method of therapy called Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI), developed by the TCU Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development. Therapists and staff members begin building trust with residents through the use of program dogs.
Not only do these four-legged friends provide therapy — their weight on a girl’s lap and the texture of their fur provide security and comfort — but they also play a role in potential vocational training. The dogs revel in the attention they receive as the girls learn how to groom and care for them in preparation for vet tech or grooming jobs.
"We want them to leave with skills that no one can take away," says Carter.
The dogs also offer the girls a nonjudgmental source of comfort, and that extends beyond Freedom Place. It’s not uncommon for a therapy dog to accompany his or her human to a courtroom, providing another layer of love and security, when a girl has to testify before a judge or jury.
"We're trying to rebuild their ability to engage in relationships and to trust," says Carter. "It’s easier to trust the animals than it is the people, so we start there."
Other therapy methods at Freedom Place include art therapy, written expression through poetry or journaling, music, and equine therapy. There's also a ropes course supervised by a certified instructor, where the girls learn to problem solve and trust other women again.
"Plus, they're teenagers!" Carter says. "Having a lifestyle that includes activities and events they enjoy is beneficial for them."
Every activity at Freedom Place is therapeutic, but it’s the vocational, coping, and life skills that the girls learn that set them up for even better success after they leave. The ultimate goals are to inspire self-worth and self-reliance, because domestic child sex trafficking victims are especially vulnerable to being taken again.
After the horrendous experiences that they have lived through, it’s reassuring for the girls to develop skills that belong to them and them alone while also making friends — even the furry kind.