Document: Bastrop facility meant to help underage sex trafficking victims being investigated for abuse…

The Refuge Ranch in Bastrop Photo: KXAN

A Bastrop facility that aims to serve underage victims of sex trafficking is being investigated after the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services received reports of sexual and physical abuse at the center. One staff member at the facility has been arrested as a result, according to a court document.

The document stated the facility is The Refuge Ranch in Bastrop, which serves girls between the ages of 11‐17. DFPS heard from youth alleging sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglectful supervision and medical neglect, among other things, occurring at the ranch. The agency started getting those reports Jan. 24, according to the document.

One of the reports detailed how a former employee, who was working at the ranch at the time, allegedly sold nude photos of two youths in their care, then used the money to buy illegal drugs and alcohol to give to the youth.

The organization confirmed two of its residents made that first report on Jan. 24, and the former employee is being investigated by the Bastrop County Sheriff’s Office.

The Refuge said it learned in December an employee had allegedly coerced the residents into making commercially sexual exploitation material, and that employee was fired. The organization said it then “immediately contacted the DFPS and the BCSO.”

According to the court document, between Jan. 24 and March 4, there were eight victims alleging human trafficking by that same ex-employee. After further investigation, it was found more staff still working at the ranch appeared to be involved as well, with many of the staff being related by blood or through relationships.

On March 4, DFPS learned the operation’s residential care director appeared to have known of the alleged sexual abuse, according to the document. The residential care director is currently listed as Courtney Trujillo on The Refuge’s website.

DFPS issued a hold on the facility on March 8 and started looking for new places to relocate the youth residing at the ranch. CPS staff and off-duty law enforcement were deployed to the facility and stayed there until all youths were removed on March 9. That means the children had stayed at the ranch for over a month after reports of abuse first started coming in to DFPS.

The Refuge said in its statement the youth in their care were removed “out of an abundance of caution,” saying the organization understands and respects the decision made by DFPS to do so.

More arrests and charges could be coming, according to the document. The DFPS investigation of the ranch has been extended, and Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday night also ordered an additional, immediate investigation by the Texas Rangers.

According to a statement from Abbott’s office, he’s directing the Texas Rangers to arrest and pursue criminal charges against anyone who took part in the abuse.

“The reports of child sex trafficking at The Refuge in Bastrop are abhorrent,” said Abbott in a statement Thursday night. “Child abuse of any kind won’t be tolerated in the state of Texas, and we are committed to ensuring these despicable perpetrators are brought to justice and punished to the fullest extent of the law. No child should ever suffer the atrocities of trafficking. I expect a thorough and prompt investigation by the Texas Rangers into these horrific crimes.”

An emergency court hearing about the case was held Thursday before Judge Janis Jack. Discussion held during the hearing revealed seven children were victimized by nine alleged perpetrators, according to the Texas Tribune.

The Tribune said DFPS Associate Commissioner for Child Protective Investigations Rich Richman told the court the children weren’t immediately relocated from the facility, because investigators thought the person involved had been fired. Judge Jack called DFPS’ decision not to remove the children immediately after reports of abuse yet another failure of the system.

Written By: Jacklyn Ramkissoon and Avery Travis for KXAN Austin, Texas

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