SPECIAL REPORT: Boulder City nonprofit aims to help child sex trafficking victims with new healing center

A nonprofit in Boulder City, NV that caters to abused and neglected children is making strides to help child sex trafficking victims.
Updated: Sep. 23, 2021 at 11:11 PM PDT
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LAS VEGAS, Nev. (FOX5) - Child sex trafficking is one of society’s most vile crimes. Children are recruited over social media and sold for sex across state lines. A nonprofit in Boulder City, NV that caters to abused and neglected children is making strides to help child sex trafficking victims.

St. Jude’s Ranch for Children has been providing a safe haven for abused and neglected children for more than 50 years.

The ranch said they have a solution on their property next to the main campus in Boulder City to help sex trafficking victims. The organization is planning a healing center on a 10 acre parcel of land.

“Welcome to the future home of the healing center. This entire 10 acres is going to be transformed into a place of healing,” St. Jude’s CEO Christine Vela said.

Vela said the healing center is the best and only hope to break the cycle of child exploitation.

The healing center will have an upscale vibe, similar to a new housing project. There will be multiple homes, a 24 hour emergency shelter, on-site schooling, therapy offices and serene outdoor space designed to transform victims into survivors.

“It couldn’t come at a sooner time. We absolutely need the solution now,” Vela said.

Sex crimes involving children run stubbornly consistent every year. Arizona State conducted an eight-year study and identified 922 child victims in Las Vegas. The study revealed 90 victims in 2019. Out of the eight-year study, child sex cases topped 100 victims.

Under federal law, children are not considered criminals of sex trafficking, but rather victims. Police departments face challenges when dealing with child sex trafficking cases. The challenge is where do departments take victims to get treatment and prevent them from running back to a victimizer for exploitation.

The time is now for the healing center. In 2023, a state mandate goes into effect that will stop jails from housing victims of child exploitation.

“We are looking forward to having the facility St. Jude’s is building because it’s sorely  needed here in town. We are a human trafficking hub particularly for juveniles,” Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Captain Kristine Buist said.

Nevada is behind other states when it comes to funding resources for child crime victims.

Captain Buist said a victim might have contact with social services seven or eight times before finally accepting help.

“It would be huge to place them somewhere they are going to get the services they need, to be able to be safe and happy as opposed to having contact with the vice detectives or other law enforcement agencies over and over again and continuing to be victimized by various traffickers and the demand side,” Captain Buist said.

Vela said the healing center will attack the demand side of child sex trafficking.

“We fundamentally believe that when we have young people in a space where they feel safe and we have the right people asking all the right questions we can collect information that can go to law enforcement partners or anyone else who needs it to hold the perpetrators of the crime to justice right? The buyers of the sex but also the perpetrators themselves,” Vela said.

Jessica Halling, youth program director for St. Jude’s Ranch, is a former resident and survivor of sex trafficking and abuse. Halling is using her own experience to design the mission for the healing center.

“Arresting them is not the answer, the healing center, a receiving center and greeting these survivors and victims with love and kindness from the very first interaction is what’s going to help us change the dynamic of this community and what’s happening to these victims,” Halling said.

St. Jude’s has raised $10million dollars of the necessary $15million needed to complete the healing center. Once the healing center is complete, St. Jude’s will need $2million a year to operate it.

Anyone interested in donating to St. Jude’s Ranch can visit St. Jude’s Ranch healing center page.