Child Sex Trafficking
Project GOLD provides outreach and services to children exploited in sex trafficking to help them recover from dangerous lives at the hands of traffickers and predators.
Project GOLD = Girls Owning their Lives and Dreams.

Project GOLD brought the legal and provider community together around the issue of child sex trafficking in 2007, and has been a leader nationally on the issue. The Project GOLD Drop In Center uses a strengths-based, survivor-led approach to provide health, social and legal services linkages, mental health support and educational enrichment to sexually exploited girls. Kristi House partners with Ark of Freedom Alliance with the help of funding by the U.S. Department of Justice to provide outreach and services to LGBTQ youth overcoming sex trafficking.

Project GOLD Drop In Center

The Drop In Center is home to Project GOLD, a membership organization for girls who have been exposed to commercial sexual exploitation. The Center welcomes all sexually exploited girls, regardless of their current residential placement. It is a place where girls are empowered to find their strengths in a non-judging, healing environment.

Programming is based on the Victim, Survivor, Leader model of G.E.M.S. widely regarded as the forerunner in helping girls and young women escape sexual exploitation. Project GOLD is shaped and directed by survivor input, reflected in the program name created by founding clients.

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.

Bridges to the Future

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 is supported by a major grant from the U.S. Department of Justice and private funders, and will build upon service to some 500 girls since Project GOLD began.

Hidden Child Sexual Abuse Victims

There is a strong link between childhood sexual abuse and CSEC (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, research has suggested that 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 minors are exploited by a 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

Kristi House and the Miami-Dade community forged an unprecedented community partnership when agencies which were likely to have contact with child victims of sex trafficking and youth at risk came together in 2007.

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 juvenile clients who were forced into prostitution or pornography, a total of 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 the opportunity to attend 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, our country’s top hub for child sex trafficking.

In 2012, Kristi House and community partners advocated for the passage of The Florida Safe Harbor Act, which recognized commercial sexually exploited children as victims of a crime, not criminals.

Community Partners

The Miami-Dade CSEC Working Group made considerable progress, quickly, with providers participating in ongoing training and bringing it back to their agencies. By working in uncharted territory to establish protocols involving large, disparate organizations, they support 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 the State Attorney’s Office of Human Trafficking Unit, Miami-Dade Police, Miami-Dade County Juvenile Services, State of Florida Dept. of Children and Families and the HT Task Force members, 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 disseminating education and training programs and sharing what it learns through Project GOLD throughout the United States. Kristi House has trained more than 15,000 professionals in CSEC and presented the topic at dozens of major conferences. Its “CSEC 101” course is approved by Florida Department of Children and Families for meeting the required three-hour training for providers seeking to work with sex trafficking victims.

Several articles on Kristi House’s work and research findings have been published in scholarly journals.

Funded by:

  • U.S. Department of Justice – Office for Victims of Crime (DOJ-OVC)
  • The Batchelor Family Foundation
  • Braman Foundation
  • The Children’s Trust
  • Kathleen Kennedy Foundation
  • UPS Independent Pilots Association
  • The Ortega Foundation
  • The Joseph H. and Florence A. Roblee Foundation
  • Regions Bank
  • Victims of Crime Act Funding, Florida Office of Attorney General

Peer-Reviewed Research:

  • Kenny, M. C., Helpingstine, C., Long, H., & Harrington, M. C. (2020). Assessment of commercially sexually exploited girls upon entry to treatment: Confirmed vs. at risk victims. Child Abuse & Neglect, 100, 104040. (PDF)
  • Maureen C. Kenny, Claire Helpingstine, Roberto L. Abreu & Francesco Duberli (2019): Understanding the needs of LGBTQ clients and their risk for commercial sexual exploitation: Training community mental health workers, Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, DOI: 10.1080/10538720.2019.1568338 (PDF)
  • Maureen C. Kenny, Claire Helpingstine, Haiying Long, Lorena Perez & Maria Clara Harrington (2019): Increasing Child Serving Professionals’ Awareness and Understanding of the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, DOI: 10.1080/10538712.2018.1563264 (PDF)
  • Kenny, M. C., Helpingstine, C. E., & Weber, M. (2018). Treatment of a Commercially Sexually Abused Girl Using Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Legal Interventions. Clinical Case Studies, 18(1), 18–35. (PDF)
  • Maureen C. Kenny, Claire E. Helpingstine, Maria Clara Harrington & Adriana G. McEachern (2018): A Comprehensive Group Approach for Commercially Sexually Exploited Girls, The Journal for Specialists in Group Work, DOI: 10.1080/01933922.2018.1484540 (PDF)
  • Kenny, M. C., Vazquez, A., Long, H., & Thompson, D. (2017). Implementation and program evaluation of trauma-informed care training across state child advocacy centers: An exploratory study. Children and Youth Services Review, 73, 15–23.

Additional Resources:

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