Program for Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC)
Project GOLD (Girls Owning their Lives and Dreams)
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Kristi House’s Project GOLD provides outreach and services to children exploited in sex trafficking to help them escape dangerous lives at the hands of traffickers and predators.
Kristi House began leading the Miami community response to commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) in 2007 with a program encompassing collaboration, prevention and treatment. Project GOLD has brought the legal and provider community together around the issue of child sex trafficking, while providing health, social and legal services linkages, and mental health support to sexually exploited girls, ages 11-17.
Project GOLD also focuses on raising awareness about the reality of children being bought and sold in the commercial sex industry and building community capacity to treat and heal victims. Kristi House specialists have trained thousands of professionals throughout the U.S. on CSEC. Kristi House advocated for the Florida Safe Harbor Act, which became law in 2013, now assuring exploited children are viewed as victims of crime rather than as perpetrators.
More than 350 children in the past seven years have received services on an outpatient basis through Project GOLD. Project GOLD uses a strengths-based, survivor-advised approach to help girls see a better future for themselves and restore their lives. The project has received three major federal grants from the Department of Justice for its leadership and programming around the issue of child sex trafficking. The program seeks to:
- Empower and raise awareness among at-risk girls;
- Identify and assist those who are in need of services to escape exploitation;
- Strengthen the community capacity to address the issue of CSEC;
- Change systems that allow CSEC to continue (Kristi House authored and advocated for the passage of Florida’s Safe Harbor Act that provides services and treatment instead of punishment for children who are victims of sex trafficking.)
Hidden Child Sexual Abuse Victims
There is a strong link between childhood sexual abuse and CSEC (also referred to as Child Sex Trafficking.) It is estimated by service providers that as many as 80-90% of prostituted youth were sexually and/or physically abused in the home. Because of the abuse, a child may run away or be thrown out of the home whereby he or she becomes extremely vulnerable to exploitation in the streets.
Among children who are living on the streets, a third are lured into prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home. Most of these cases occur in major cities such as Miami, where at least 75% of the minors engaged in prostitution have a pimp. Once they fall into the hands of a pimp (trafficker), they are repeatedly subject to various forms of psychological, physical and sexual abuse as a means of breaking their will and extracting obedience. They are also transported frequently from city to city to further isolate them and meet client demand. Escaping “the life” proves incredibly difficult for most.
History and Background
In late 2007 Kristi House began its program to address commercially sexually exploited children (CSEC), a population of victims of sexual abuse who were being misidentified and overlooked and for whom no services existed. Kristi House forged an unprecedented community partnership in Miami-Dade County, bringing together all the community agencies which were likely to have contact with child victims of sex trafficking and youth at risk.
Some 30 agencies answered the Kristi House call to action and participated in the first training led by GEMS Founder and Director Rachel Lloyd, leader of one of the very few programs in the country at the time. A needs assessment completed by attendees showed that at least 67% of the organizations represented had had juvenile clients who were forced into prostitution or pornography, and approximately 180 known CSEC victims were seen by at least one agency in the past year. Although more than half of the respondents agreed that CSEC was an important policy or service issue for their organization, only 14% had ever attended a CSEC training.
Recognizing the need to better serve victims and to increase knowledge and community collaboration around this issue, the community representatives agreed to form a coalition and meet regularly to share information and strategize ways to better serve the victims in Miami, which the FBI had previously identified as one of the top hubs for child sex trafficking.
Coalition of Partners
Kristi House served as the lead agency organizing the first Miami coalition of 27 organizations that comprised the Miami-Dade CSEC Working Group. The partnership’s progress was been considerable, with providers participating in ongoing training and bringing it back to their agencies; working in uncharted territory to establish protocols involving large, disparate organizations; and supporting Kristi House’s leadership around the issue locally, statewide and nationally with training and advocacy initiatives. The CSEC Working Group brought attention to the issue in South Florida.
Key community partners continue to include Miami-Dade Police; Miami-Dade County Juvenile Services; Our Kids of Miami-Dade/Monroe, Inc.; State of Florida Dept. of Children and Families; State Attorney’s Office Human Trafficking Task Force; University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Division of Adolescent Medicine; Shared Hope International Restorative Work Group; and GEMS.among many others.
The Kristi House CSEC program was renamed Project GOLD in 2009 – “Girls Owning their Lives and Dreams” – a name chosen by the youth involved. The Project strives to engage this special population for services, encourage their healing and pave the way for their future success.
In 2009 Kristi House became a training provider through the U.S. Department of Justice for the CSEC Community Intervention Project (CCIP) and since that time has been promoting CSEC programs throughout the United States through the network of Children’s Advocacy Centers. Kristi House has trained more than 5,000 professionals in CSEC and presented the topic at three dozen major conferences. Statewide Kristi House is training protective investigators and case workers with the Department of Children and Families under the new Safe Harbor law.
For more information, contact Claudia Kitchens, Kristi House Executive Director