AUSTIN, Texas - Thursday the State Senate Special Committee on Child Protective Services held an emergency hearing addressing criminal activity at The Refuge Ranch. The Refuge Ranch for DMST is a long-term rehabilitative facility for juvenile sex-trafficking survivors. It is located in Bastrop County and receives funding from the State of Texas.
Nine employees were accused of sex trafficking at least seven underage sex-trafficking survivors prompting a state investigation. In a letter sent to Governor Greg Abbott Wednesday, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw wrote "There is no evidence that any residents at the Refuge Shelter have ever been sexually abused or trafficked while at the shelter."
"That particular part of the story you’re now saying did not happen?" State Senator Lois Kolkhorst (R-Houston) asked McCraw.
"No ma’am." he replied. Adding "Follow up interview with DFPS employees were able to confirm that."
Still, McCraw said two separate instances of criminal conduct at the facility remain under investigation.
The first was reported on January 24. A staff member allegedly took nude photographs of two female sex-trafficking survivors and sold them. McCraw said the employee is believed to have supplied the minors with "money or drugs." No arrests have been made, however, McCraw said charges are likely.
On February 20 two female sex-trafficking survivors escaped the facility. An employee who helped the girl escape was fired and arrested for making a false statement to law enforcement. At least three other employees involved in the incident left the ranch.
"There obviously was criminal activity in this facility and any exploitation of any child in the State of Texas is unacceptable." Kolkhorst said
In a statement, CEO and Founder of The Refuge for DMST Brooke Crowder said the following:
"We are deeply relieved by the Texas Rangers' findings reported in today's letter from the Department of Public Safety to Governor Abbott. We are grateful to state leaders for maintaining an intense focus on the issues related to interdicting sex trafficking and supporting us in our efforts to protect and rehabilitate the victims that enter our care. We are committed to continued close cooperation with DPS, the Texas Department of Family Protective Services and the Bastrop County Sheriff's Office as they pursue justice for the girls involved in the cited incidents."
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