CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Kristi Wells is in year two of helping children out of unimaginable situations.
“We fund new or expanding safe houses across America,” she says.
For her group, “Safe House Project,” that includes Charlotte and North Carolina as a whole, where she says the need for places for survivors to go and heal, is evident.
“Right now, in North Carolina, there’s only one home for child sex trafficking victims,” Wells says. “That only serves six children. So last year, 67 children were turned away because there was simply no room.”
Wells says 300,000 children are sex-trafficked in America each year, including for prostitution and pornography. Many traffickers are people children know, she adds, and much of the trafficking is online.
“The average age of entry into sex trafficking is 12 years old,” Wells says. “And there has become a bigger need for safe houses to serve those as young as 6 or 4, because these are the children that are being sold.”
While there is still limited help for adult survivors of sex trafficking, Wells says there is even less for children. Her group’s research in 2018 cites just more than 1,000 safe house beds available for adult survivors, and less than 100 for children.
Safe House Project’s role in opening new homes is fundraising - the part, Wells says, that is holding partner nonprofits back from opening and expanding safe houses nationally.
“It’s very difficult for a safe house to be covert in operations, but overt in fundraising,” she says.
Now, Safe House Project is looking to help add eight new beds to the already existing six in the state, and hoping to expand further as the group grows.
“We can spend all our time in investing into law enforcement and them increasing victim identification,” Wells says. “But if we aren’t doing something to actually provide victim care, it’s all for nothing.”
The group’s big fundraiser is a gala being held at Quail Hollow this weekend. Wells is hoping that will complete the funding she needs to get that new safe house – those eight new beds – in place by the beginning of 2020.