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According to the current employee, sex trafficking victims were sexually abused at a local Texas foster home

AUSTIN, Texas (KTRK) — Employees at a Texas-contracted facility have been found to be caring for female foster children who are victims of sex trafficking, according to a federal judge.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can get confidential help by calling the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network’s 24/7 toll-free support line at 800-656-4673 or the online line to visit.

Seven children between the ages of 11 and 17 were harassed by nine alleged perpetrators. The children stayed at the facility for over a month after the abuse was first reported before being removed.

The children were sexually and physically abused and suffered from lax supervision and medical neglect while being held at The Refuge, a Bastrop facility contracted by the Texas Department of Family and Safeguarding Services, a current Refuge worker told state authorities on Aug Jan. 24 Court and court observers — judge-appointed watchdogs of the care system — were not notified until Thursday.

That employee said a former employee sold nude photos of two children in the care of the facility and used the proceeds to purchase illegal drugs and alcohol, which were then shipped to the children, according to a letter from DFPS filed Thursday, stating the court was informed of the incident. According to the letter, local law enforcement and the Texas Department of Public Safety were notified immediately.

“Did the governor see it?” Jack asked, referring to the letter. Nobody answered.

Additional ABC13 coverage: “We immediately fired the apparent perpetrator,” a representative from The Refuge Ranch said in a news conference. “There were other concerns that some of her family members could also be involved.”

SEE ALSO: Mother and friend charged in ‘horrible’ death of 8-year-old boy

In a statement Thursday night, Gov. Greg Abbott said the Texas Rangers will investigate, arrest and charge all suspects related to the refugee allegations.

“The reports of child trafficking at The Refuge in Bastrop are abhorrent,” Abbott said. “Child abuse of any kind will not be tolerated in the state of Texas and we are committed to bringing these heinous perpetrators to justice and punishing them to the fullest extent of the law.”

The identity of the suspects has not yet been released.

Rich Richman, DFPS Assistant Commissioner for Child Protection Investigations, told the court the children were not immediately removed from the facility because investigators thought the person responsible had been fired.

However, several staff members were found to have been allegedly responsible for the abuse of the children, some of whom were not immediately removed. One suspect has been arrested by law enforcement and DFPS expects more arrests.

Between the first report on January 24 and March 4, DFPS received several additional reports about the employee being removed from the facility. However, during the investigation, DFPS “discovered that several other personnel still employed by the operation appeared to be involved and that many of them were related by blood or marriage and/or lived together,” the letter reads. Now the home manager of the company is said to have known about the sexual abuse.

Additional coverage from ABC13: “My biggest question, which I can’t answer, is how for six weeks the department knew about it and sat on it and didn’t do anything about it,” Green said. “For me, that’s the most outrageous part about it. This is inexplicable and unjustifiable.”

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DFPS did not remove all of the children until Wednesday, five weeks after the first documented report of sexual abuse. The department sent child protective services staff and off-duty law enforcement to the facility a day earlier to “ensure the safety of the youth.” Eight of the nine children who were in The Refuge at the time were being placed in other facilities specializing in the care of victims of commercial sex trafficking, according to the letter. The remaining child refused to be placed in another facility and DFPS is looking for alternative placement.

“It’s just shocking and shameful. Children are being horribly abused in state care and the authorities are saying nothing,” Paul Yetter, an attorney representing foster children in the federal lawsuit, said in a statement Thursday. “Texas is failing in its most basic duty: to protect these innocent children. And we all know who pays the price for it. Without the vigilance of court observers and prompt action by the judge, who knows what kind of further abuse would happen.”

Jack, who is overseeing a decades-old lawsuit against Texas over its foster care system, expressed horror at the discovery during Thursday’s hearing.

SEE HERE: ‘There were several stories’: Police say foster mother did not approve of how baby was injured

The judge criticized DFPS for not removing the children immediately when the abuse allegations were first reported, calling it another failure of the system. Numerous bombshell reports have been released by the court-appointed observers, detailing abuse within the system, neglect and even deaths of children.

Dozens of facilities contracted by Texas have recently closed or had their licenses revoked after committing numerous crimes and exposing children to dangerous and harmful environments. Child advocates and the judge have repeatedly criticized Texas officials for failing to ensure facilities for children in state custody are safe. From the summer of 2019 to May 2021, court observers found that at least 23 children in Texas’ long-term care system died in state-licensed shelters and facilities.

DFPS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The judge ordered the state to provide the court with the identities of the alleged perpetrators and victims by noon Friday. She also asked for details of the care the children have received since their removal.

Additional coverage from ABC13, executive director of non-profit legal aid group Foster Care Advocacy Center, Tara Green spoke to Poojah Lodhia.

“When these types of allegations surface, it not only harms the people, the individuals, the victims involved, but the movement as a whole. It tarnishes the reputation of the work we’re trying to do,” said Micah Gamboa, executive director of Elijah Rising, a nonprofit group dedicated to fighting sex trafficking.

To learn more about this story, follow Pooja Lodhia on Facebook,Twitter and Instagram.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that educates and collaborates with Texans on public policy, politics and government

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https://abc13.com/child-sex-trafficking-tdfps-abuse-against-children-local-state-shelter/11643841/ According to the current employee, sex trafficking victims were sexually abused at a local Texas foster home

Dais Johnston

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