In a cozy one-story home in Miami, six twin beds dressed in bright prints stand empty. Yoga mats and art supplies are packed away in the living room, and a tire swing in the backyard hangs still.
Until early June, this was a refuge for six teenage girls who were victims of sex trafficking. Run by the nonprofit Kristi House, it was the state’s first short-term “safe house” for sexually exploited children, founded in the wake of new, highly touted legislation that allowed victims to be treated in specialized shelters rather than confined as if prostitutes. When it opened April 1, many hoped it would be a model for safe houses around the state.
Yet the shelter suspended operations just two months later, after girls housed there repeatedly ran away. One reported being raped while on the loose. The incidents, publicized in a June grand jury report, have prompted child welfare administrators and legislators to consider whether child sex trafficking victims should be locked up for their own good, at least temporarily. Advocates say this would be a step backward in helping children who fall prey to the sex trade.
The victim, a girl in her early teens under the care of the Department of Children & Families, reported being sexually assaulted after running away from the shelter 10 days after it opened, according to the child welfare agency. She was trying to return to the safe house, and an older man refused to drive her there unless she had sex with him, said Kristi House Executive Director Trudy Novicki. Shelter therapist Tabitha Gallerani reported the rape, which she said took place “very far” from the safe house. More from Katia Savchuk here.