A Tucson police officer is determined to return something that has been stolen from victims of human trafficking: Their childhoods.
“When I was working in the Human Trafficking Unit, I saw a huge need among child survivors of sex trafficking,” said Sarah Haught, 34, a criminal intelligence officer who has worked with the Tucson Police Department for 11 years.
“In order to help them recover, we need to give them a long-term place to live and call home. I am not going to stand by and let these little girls fend for themselves.
“I want to provide a place for them to heal and have a childhood again.”
The means to that end is Beauty from Ashes Ranch, a nonprofit Haught founded in 2017 with a mission to develop a safe harbor for rescued girls ages 11 to 17.
The ranch is an antidote to the $150 billion industry that traffics an estimated 40 million victims globally, 75 percent of whom are women and girls, according the International Labour Organization.
“I didn’t realize what an epidemic it is here in the United States — not just girls being kidnapped and taken across international borders, but women and children here in the U.S being targeted and victimized,” Haught said.
She said many victims are coerced into labor and sex trafficking through violence, threats and other tactics by parents, family members, caregivers, intimate partners or familial contacts. They frequently come from unsupported family systems and commonly suffer from impaired mental and/or physical health and wellness, challenged self-identity, post-traumatic stress disorder and drug addiction.
“I can’t tell you how many stories I have heard of family members trafficking in the U.S. It is a tragedy,” Haught said.
Human trafficking is also used as currency in exchange for illegal drugs and other crimes, she said.
“Human trafficking is the second largest criminal industry in the world behind drugs. Pimps and criminals are realizing they can make more profit off of girls than drugs since they can sell the girls over and over.
“They also incorporate both crimes into one: They have the girls become addicted and then sell drugs for them,” Haught said.
Promoting education and awareness about the many aspects of the industry is central to the mission of the nonprofit, according to Valerie Pinon, who is handling marketing and outreach.
While high-profile cases such as that of Jeffrey Epstein help bring the issue to the forefront, Pinon and Haught believe that much more awareness is needed.
“I would hope that people would wake up and realize that it is not just those who are trafficking, but also the Johns who participate in these acts who need to be held accountable,” Haught said.
“It is a simple misdemeanor to be arrested for that part of the crime and that is not acceptable.”
She and her board members are also focusing on outreach about fundraising efforts for the ranch.
The nonprofit has signed a lease on a 70-acre property in central Arizona (the location is undisclosed to protect the survivors) and hopes to break ground in spring 2020 on a six-bedroom home complete with a kitchen, dining room, living room, study area and therapy office.
Survivors will receive long-term holistic care, including counseling, equine therapy, gardening, art and other therapies; along with education and job training.
“The idea is to get them out of the environment they have been in and to provide a scenic area with therapeutic programs, physical exercise and lots of things to help them heal,” said Haught, who grew up in a ranching family and was home-schooled while competing in sports at Cienega High School.
“We want them to know there is hope for the future. I personally believe in the healing powers of Jesus Christ and we can teach that as well, but they are not expected to pursue our beliefs. They can pursue any beliefs they choose.”
Estimates for start-up costs are $1.5 million and Haught said she hopes to raise at least $500,000 at the upcoming gala to help bring the dream to fruition.