In a report released yesterday, those monitors say “ample evidence” substantiates claims of sexual abuse and potentially even trafficking at a Bastrop shelter called The Refuge.
Lately thrust into notoriety by these allegations, The Refuge is a shelter for young female victims of sex trafficking. The accusations came into public view on March 10 in a court document warning Jack of an “urgent situation,” listing several grave allegations that went unaddressed by the state for weeks.
After Governor Greg Abbott ordered the Texas Rangers to investigate, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) stated on March 16 that investigations uncovered no evidence of sexual abuse or trafficking at The Refuge. However, the DPS letter also said criminal investigations would continue for two incidents: one involving a Refuge worker who allegedly sold nude pictures of residents for drugs, and another involving employees that helped residents flee the facility.
In their March 28 report, the monitors called these initial findings “premature” and faulted the DPS for releasing results before interviewing all the children involved.
“[A]t least one child victim was not interviewed by a Texas Ranger until well after the DPS letter became public, and that the child was upset by the Rangers’ conclusions,” the monitors wrote, speaking about one of the two children involved in the alleged nude picture exploitation.
“The evidence strongly suggests Col. McGraw’s conclusion that there was no evidence of sexual abuse or trafficking at The Refuge was, at best, premature.”
While the monitors’ report brings new details to light about the nature of both incidents, it does not reveal new incidents that went uninvestigated. Rather, it disputes the DPS characterization of events, saying the nude picture incident constitutes sexual abuse and strongly supports the possibility of trafficking at the shelter.
The monitors cite a section of the Texas Penal Code, which makes it a criminal offense to traffic a child and cause the child to engage in child pornography.
Texas’s foster care system is managed by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC). The original March 10 letter that alerted the court about the allegations said DFPS had ignored several reports of potential abuse, neglect, or exploitation at The Refuge, including eight reports about the employee who allegedly sold nude photos and two reports about the employees assisting flight from the shelter.
In their update yesterday, the monitors say DFPS failed to thoroughly investigate some reports, including incidents involving a resident contracting an infection from a stick-and-poke tattoo, a resident that drank bleach, and a Refuge employee who allegedly introduced her young adult son to a teenage resident and inadvertently sparked a romantic relationship between the two that interfered with the resident’s therapy before she eloped with the son.
DFPS leadership primarily blamed the lack of communication about the nude photo and flight incidents on a particular office in the agency. A manager in the agency resigned afterwards, saying other parties — including HHSC — should have shared in the blame for failing to address the allegations.
Judge Jack has scheduled a hearing on the issue for 9 a.m. tomorrow
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