In December 2016 the University of Texas estimated that there are 79,000 identified minor and youth victims of sex trafficking. So where are they now? If they’re taken out of the cycle of trafficking and abuse, where do they go to heal and begin new lives?
Alicia Bush discovered there weren’t enough safe places for minors after being trafficked. Her answer to the problem is Treasured Vessels Foundation, a nonprofit organization that aims to build tiny homes for minors who have been trafficked.
How did you first find out how pervasive human trafficking is in Texas?
Alicia: Six years ago, my husband heard about it at a men’s breakfast. It was a once-a-month thing that had different speakers come in to talk about different issues. One time, they had a speaker who talked about local, domestic and international trafficking. He and I both are international missionaries. Human trafficking sounded like something that happened in impoverished countries at first but the more we learned, more we found out it’s here too. But it’s very well hidden. We didn’t know what we could do, but immediately, we wanted to do something.
Why build tiny houses?
Alicia: There’s a gap in care for [minors who have been trafficked]. Other than foster homes or jail for a runaway charge, there just aren’t enough places for them to go. They’re kids and their trauma is very specific.
There needs to be more housing. My husband builds custom homes, so I said, ‘let’s build them a place to go.’ Maybe we can’t solve the whole problem of human trafficking, but we can make a difference in this one area with Treasured Vessels.
We’re starting with girls, but we want to also offer housing to boys eventually.
I have a clinical background, so if we can provide a place for them, we can start offering trauma informed therapy, and education in a specialized environment.
Tell me more about the environment you want to build.
Alicia: It’s more than just tiny houses. Treasured Vessels is all about identifying the needs of these kids and how we can meet them effectively. We’ll have a ropes course there. We’ll have sophisticated security, cameras and full-time staff because they need to feel safe and secure. But they won’t be prisoners.
It’s hard to know what to do; some experts say lock the doors and others don’t. We want our girls to know they aren’t locked in but that they are safe. They can sleep without their trafficker busting in the door. But this is about not just meeting their needs but loving them.
What’s your hope for these girls?
Alicia: That when they feel comfortable enough to go back to society, they’re ready, equipped, safe, empowered, we want them to have all the tools they need to live successful lives.
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What do people not understand about survivors of trafficking?
Alicia: Relapsing. I’ve met young girls who are still in the life, girls who are out of it and recovering but still struggling. Sometimes there are problems at home. Very often, they struggle with wanting to go back to the life.
Relapsing is probably going to happen at some point in the healing process. It’s similar to alcoholism. You don’t say to an alcoholic ‘just stop drinking.’ That isn’t effective. It’s the same with people who have been trafficked. They might run back to the life. But you have to walk with them through it. You have to expect nothing, but empower them to take on their own journey of healing.
It’s definitely a hard journey. We have to remember when working with these minors that they’re just humans and they’re just kids.
What are some of the roadblocks to exposing human trafficking in our community?
Alicia: It’s a subject that’s so difficult people want to stay away from it. It’s uncomfortable. It involves sex. But how long has trafficking been going on? Forever. We have to go ahead and just talk about it.
“Treasured Vessels Foundation is devoted to providing a safe place for girls ages 11-17 who have been rescued from domestic sex trafficking to receive healing and hope. We have a passion for restoring purpose and value to the perfectly imperfect.”