Authorities investigating The Refuge for DMST for child sex trafficking
BASTROP COUNTY, Texas - The Refuge for DMST, a place where girls go to escape the horrors of sex trafficking and abuse, is now under investigation, for the same offenses.
There are two events in question, the first being exploitation. Back on Jan. 24, a resident reported some of her items stolen.
"A director on staff could tell there was something more to the story. She interviewed her, that's when the outcry happened," said Steven Phenix, director of communications at The Refuge.
It was reported that the employee allegedly sold nude pictures of her and another child living there, and that the proceeds were used to buy alcohol and drugs for the minors.
"As of this morning, the Bastrop County sheriff has not made an arrest yet in that exploitation event," said Brooke Crowder, founder and CEO. "We fired the obvious perpetrator on that immediately. There were concerns that other family members may have been involved in that as well. But the sheriff’s office cleared all three of them, they remained on staff at that time."
The second incident, involves two girls who ran away from the property, and some staff members allegedly helped them do it. Both girls were located safely afterward.
"There were three employees that were involved with that and they've all been terminated," said Crowder.
"Yes these two incidents happened this year, we are devastated that they did. We take every measure possible to protect the girls in our care," said Crowder.
Operations have been put on hold for now while the investigation continues. All the girls have been removed from the facility and are in Texas Department of Family and Protective Services care for the time being. The agency is also leading the investigation.
"As every girl left, none wanted to leave, they were all weeping. We stopped them and looked them in the eye and said ‘we love you and we will never stop fighting for you’ and our goal is to get you back here," said Crowder.
Although all staff members passed background checks and training, Crowder said the events have caused them to reevaluate their hiring practices.
"We've put in new safety and background checks above and beyond what state and federal requirements are so this will never happen again," said Crowder.
There has been an arrest in connection with the flight incident, with the two girls leaving the property. It is alleged one employee lied to an investigator.
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