The Refuge for DMST cleared of wrongdoing after misconduct allegations, activists speak against reopening
BASTROP, Texas - Activists are speaking out against the reopening of The Refuge for DMST, an organization that helps teenaged girls who have been recovered from sex traffickers.
In March 2022, the Bastrop County nonprofit went under investigation for allegations of misconduct, and a few months ago, it was cleared of any wrongdoing, and the state restored its license.
A group of activists, however, isn't convinced.
"We do not believe that nothing happened here. Yes, it did, so why do we want to send our children back to the abuser where the abuse happened?" Dr. Candice Matthews, Statewide Vice Chair of the Texas Democratic Black Caucus said.
In January 2022, there were allegations of an employee selling nude pictures of two girls for drugs. There was another case where staff members allegedly helped two girls run away.
Nine agencies investigated.
DPS Director Steve McCraw wrote a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott that reads in part, "The Texas Ranger investigation did not identify any evidence that a Refuge employee engaged in criminal neglectful supervision, physical abuse, sexual abuse, promotion/possession of child pornography, or human trafficking of any child."
In December, the Senate Committee on Child Protective Services published a report that also found no evidence of wrongdoing.
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Matthews claims the investigation was flawed, citing racism and ties to the governor and donors.
"If it was a minority provider that had a fire extinguisher that was outdated, or if it was a provider that had people working without a background check like they did, they would've closed up immediately and removed the kids immediately," she said.
The Refuge did not respond to Matthews' press conference, but founder/CEO Brooke Crowder said in part in a February 2023 press release: "Rather than look backward at false allegations and other issues that led to a year of lost care for traumatized girls and near bankruptcy for our organization, we intend to emphasize the lessons learned from the process, work cooperatively with our state agency partners, and keep our eyes trained on the future."
"I think it needs to be shut down with the current leadership, and I think it needs to be someone to come and buy this facility and for them to get rid of the board, get rid of the whole leadership, staff and everything and start it over from scratch," Matthews said.
The Refuge says they are in the process of rebuilding their care team and will welcome new survivors in the spring.