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As reported by South bend Tribune

GOSHEN — Bashor Children’s Home is opening a new residential program this week for teen-aged girls who’ve been trapped into sex trafficking.

The issue is worse than officials at the nonprofit had realized. Two girls from the immediate area are already in house, and Bashor is on track to fill all of the eight beds in the next few weeks, said Sean McCrindle, Bashor’s vice president of operations.

“Some of the kids who’ve come here didn’t realize the situation they were in was human trafficking,” he said. “They thought they were just earning money for people and themselves.”

Indiana’s Department of Child Services is just now trying to count how many girls are victims of sex trafficking in the state, as it hasn’t been tracking those numbers in its data, said spokesman James Wide.

Bashor became aware of the need after it opened a runaway shelter for teens one year ago, which has stayed busy seeing a total of at least 65 kids, McCrindle said. Trafficking victims started to appear last year, spurring the need for a new program.

“The kids who came through the shelter opened our eyes to how big the issue is,” he said.

He counts fewer than a dozen residential facilities in Indiana that specialize in helping trafficking victims. Wide said the next closest one is in Muncie.

The victims cannot simply return home because, in many cases, family members were involved in trafficking, McCrindle said.

The people who sell them — who seem caring at first — often house and feed them, but then they also control the girls’ access to phone, Internet, money and outside relationships, he said. The paid sex often happens in a hotel, a house or a vehicle.

Bashor’s new treatment program is more than a shelter. Girls will stay nine to 12 months or longer and receive intensive therapy for the trauma they’ve seen, McCrindle said. It will also be for girls who are at high risk of trafficking.

That could be girls who’ve lived in poverty, who’ve suffered abuse, who’ve seen a lot of family conflict or who’ve been a chronic runaway, he said. These girls may start out by couch surfing at friends’ homes. Then, as they run out of places to do that, they find people who ask them to earn their keep. And then the girls cannot find a way out.

Bashor has hired an extra 12 to 16 staff to run the 24-hour program, said spokesman Steve Riikonen. DCS will pay Bashor a fee per child served — an amount that is still being negotiated based on the level of services. Bashor will do fund-raising in the community to cover the remaining costs, an expected gap of $180,000 to $208,000, McCrindle said.

The girls will receive counseling from Oaklawn, a Goshen-based mental health provider, which Medicaid could reimburse, Riikonen said.

The victims will be referred to Bashor by either the state’s Department of Child Services or by juvenile courts and detention centers.

The nonprofit Family Justice Center of St. Joseph County, which serves victims of violence and sexual abuse, trains its staff and volunteer advocates — who answer its 24-hour crisis line (574-289-HELP) — in the realities of human trafficking, said Director Amy Stewart-Brown.

If there’s a case of trafficking, she said, referrals are made based on the victim’s needs.

Bashor has already brought in two girls who came in separately over the past two weeks, both from the immediate area. Three more are scheduled to arrive over the next month, McCrindle said. All are from Elkhart County and surrounding counties, which is Bashor’s priority to serve. But the state could start referring victims from across the state, too, he said.

Once victims are ready to leave Bashor, he said, they could transition back to family members, if safe, or to foster families. Or, if they’re close to age 18, they could move into an apartment.

jdits@sbtinfo.com

574-235-6158