Denton county’s first male-centered shelter for survivors of sex trafficking, Bob’s House of Hope, is set to open by January 2021, CEO and founder Bob Williams said.
Williams founded the Ranch House Rescue counseling center in 2011 to pair abused and neglected animals with individuals with complex trauma. After years of experience working with sex trafficking victims, Williams felt there was a “disturbing lack of support and aid for male sex trafficking victims.”
“Boys are called the unseen survivors [of sex trafficking] because of the stigma associated with it,” Williams said.
Bob’s House of Hope will service male survivors from ages 18 to 24 with long-term care. Residents will receive a variety of resources depending on their individual needs, including vocational training, further education, counseling and a mentorship program led by veterans involved at Ranch Hands Rescue.
“We’re simply excited about the work we’re going to do here,” Williams said. “It’s very involved because a lot of [residents] will need to be detoxed when they get here.”
Williams receives daily requests to take in sex trafficking survivors from government agencies. He said the majority of the residents at Bob’s House of Hope will be referred by law enforcement or social workers.
In addition to being a part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s child sex trafficking prevention team, Williams was previously involved in what is now the C7 Human Trafficking Coalition. C7 is based in Denton and operates in counties across North Texas, from Tarrant County and Dallas County to the Texas-Oklahoma border.
“An estimated 79,000 minors are being sex trafficked at any given time in Texas, based off of a study by UT Austin,” Chair of C7 Dennis Ozment said.
Ozment said it is difficult to accurately report the statistics of sex trafficking. This issue stems from a lack of awareness of what exactly sex trafficking is, including some law enforcement’s unfamiliarity of how to identify and prosecute the crime.
The data regarding male survivors is documented less, Julie Leventhal, a principal lecturer at the Honors College, said about the reported ratio of female to male survivors.
“This is where the double-edged sword comes in,” Leventhal said. “Part of me wants to say it’s more female-presenting [survivors] that you will see, but also I don’t know if that’s because we don’t really study male statistics and we don’t look at it as much. So by default, it’s going to be disproportionate.”
This lack of research partially stems from a global assumption that males have autonomy in trafficking situations, Leventhal said. She said it is important to recognize men can be sex trafficked and that it will “sometimes look the same as it would for women and sometimes look very different.”
While there are therapists and medical resources for male survivors in the U.S., Ozment said there are currently no options to live in a residential facility. Both Leventhal and Ozment said there is a need for more shelters that can sustain themselves and stay open.
“[Bob’s House of Hope] is going to be a first-of-its-kind type thing,” Leventhal said. “Especially in this area, where we have such a need for that. It’s going to be big for Texas and it’s going to be a big model for other states.”
Featured Illustration by Olivia Varnell