Project GOLD – Sexual Exploitation

ProjectGOLD-logoProgram for Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC):
Project GOLD

* * * *

Kristi House’s Project GOLD provides outreach and services to children exploited in sex trafficking to help them overcome the trauma of commercial sexual exploitation by traffickers and predators.

Kristi House’s Project GOLD—the first and longest-running program in large Miami-Dade County dedicated to child sex trafficking—operates the only Drop In Center in South Florida exclusively for underage girls overcoming trafficking. The Drop In Center provides a home-like setting for engagement and delivery of restorative services, including case management, therapy, advocacy, transportation, educational and recreational enrichment. It provides an alternative to a dangerous life of abuse and exploitation.

Experience has demonstrated that in addition to wrap-around services, positive adults and a non-judgmental, trauma-informed, survivor-focused approach, girls need vocational training, job skills and career planning help them find paths to futures not involving trafficking.

Project GOLD Bridges to the Future is addressing this vital component with one-to-one counseling, educational and vocational support and connections in the community to identify strengths, forge linkages and routes out of trafficking.

Bridges to the Future is providing vocational/skills training, tutoring, financial counseling, job readiness assistance, education programs, and assistance with educational and professional certifications, internships and apprenticeships. Key staff bring vocational and career counseling experience to the program with a Faculty Team comprised of several highly experienced university researchers and community professionals providing project guidance to make a difference in girls’ futures. This program will build upon service to some 500 girls since Project GOLD began. 

Community Collaboration

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 12 to 18.

Understanding

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.

Services

More than 500 children 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 several 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 

Hidden Child Sexual Abuse Victims

There is a strong link between childhood sexual abuse and CSEC (also referred to as Child Sex Trafficking.) Approximately 90% of exploited youth were sexually and/or physically abused in the home. Because of the abuse, a child might 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 sex trafficking within 48 hours of leaving home. Most of these cases occur in major cities such as Miami, where most of the minors are exploited by trafficker. Once they fall into the hands of a trafficker, they are repeatedly subjected 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 a life of exploitation proves incredibly difficult for most children and youth.


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 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 HT Task Force; State Attorney’s Office Human Trafficking Task Force; University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and Thrive Clinic; 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.

Training Leadership
Over a decade ago 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 13,000 professionals in CSEC and presented the topic at dozens of 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.