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Courage House to be a safe home for sex trafficking victims

By: Teresa O'Hanlon, Placer Herald Correspondent
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She was escaping from sexual abuse the only way she knew how, and that meant running away. A teenager from Placer County who would eventually spend time in 11 different foster care and group homes. Escaping to the streets again, only to end up emotionally entrapped in a Sacramento sex trafficking business so deep underground, no one can even estimate the number of victims. Jenny Williamson of Rocklin said she would never forget hearing this victim’s story. “I have personally met girls from Placer County under the age of 18 who have been trafficked for sex in Sacramento,” said Williamson, mom, business owner and founder of Courage to Be You (C2BU), a Rocklin nonprofit organization working to bring young locals of the sex trade home to a safe environment in Placer County. According to FBI Agent Mike Rayfield, who is the supervisory special agent of the violent crimes squad in Sacramento, his task force has rescued more than 200 girls from domestic human sex trafficking in the last three years. “Juvenile American girls prostituting not too far from home and their main story is that they come from broken homes, they’re runaways, they’re throwaways, they’re running away from something really bad and the only way to survive sometimes is to get caught up in this sort of a thing,” Rayfield said. “In Sacramento we’ve seen girls as young at 11 and up to 17; the average age probably around 15.” When Williamson started C2BU in 2005, she was responding to a call by God to help people find their purpose in life and that led her to the reality facing rescued victims of domestic sex trafficking. Victims suffering from physical health problems associated with beatings and rapes, malnutrition and extreme fear. “These victims are U.S citizens; these are our girls,” Williamson said. “In your own neighborhood and your own churches. It is so mainstream that it’s scary. I am telling you, two or three years ago I had no idea this existed. I am so naïve. And it’s not new. We have this new term: sex trafficking, but child prostitution is as old as time.” Williamson has rallied hundreds of volunteers and partnered with the FBI and the Sacramento Police Department to establish a safe haven hidden away in a rural area where vulnerable victims can live without fear of retaliating pimps and perpetrators. A place Williamson calls “a home and not a program.” Last fall, Williamson earned the FBI Community Leadership Award. With close to $650,000 in donations in 2009, CB2U volunteers completed renovations on property purchased in rural Placer County and applied for a state group home license to serve minors. Williamson expects to open Courage House to six minors this spring with the master plan set for 60 minors, but already the home has served more than 14 young adult victims of sex trafficking. Rob Getty, Adoption Program Director for Koinonia Family Services in Loomis, sees the benefit of a home offering specialized services to serve the needs of girls who have been trafficked in the greater Sacramento area. “Generally because foster parents and staff of group homes do not possess the specific training and skills necessary to provide the care necessary to assist young women who have been involved in sex trafficking,” he said. Courage House volunteer Zach Love, a freshman at William Jessup University spent every Saturday last summer landscaping the property. “It’s an honor to make it more of a home for the victims so they can feel safe,” Love said. “All the volunteers are putting their talents to work. They’re glad to be there, you can feel it.” Williamson offers training courses for volunteers interested in working at Courage House. “The shocking thing to me is that these kinds of recovery homes, they exist in Third World countries, but very few of them exist in the United States,” said Rayfield. “There is no home specific to the issues these particular girls face. If they go to the children’s receiving home they will just run away and go back to the life.” For more information about C2BU e-mail info@c2bu.org or call (916) 335-9043. ----- Courage to Be You Online: www.c2bu.org Phone: (916) 335-9043