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Groups move ahead with plans with refuge homes for sex trafficking victims
Efforts to limit illegal sex trade include tougher state penalties for solicitation
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Straight Street Director Beau Robson studies drawings and layouts Friday, July 6, 2018, for a home planned for women escaping sex trafficking, who are served by the organization's Beautiful Feet ministry. - photo by Scott Rogers

Jennifer Robson spent last month looking at the colors for the home that will help survivors of sex trafficking through Straight Street Ministry: Whites for the cabinets, earth tones for the flooring.

Robson, the Beautiful Feet director, said she wanted a “clean, inviting look” with a homey feel.

“Just something that you’d want your friends to come over and say, ‘I feel welcomed here,’” she said.

Straight Street Ministry is a Gainesville nonprofit, and Beautiful Feet is one of its programs created in 2012 to help women leaving the sex trade.

As a revamped human trafficking statute took effect July 1, multiple agencies in the area are working to help survivors. State House Bill 732, which was signed May 7, amended the statute to include the word “patronize.”

Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, was a sponsor of an earlier version of the bill, saying the change would also target any person paying for sex. As a result, anyone convicted of soliciting or patronizing a person 16 years or older who is the “subject of sexual servitude” to “perform sexually explicit conduct” would face five to 20 years in prison.

The phrase “or older” also was added in the bill.

Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad Lt. Don Scalia said this change is trying to strengthen the language and penalties for those who pay for sex. If the person trafficked is younger than 16 or is “known to have a developmental disability,” a conviction could result in 10 to 20 years imprisonment.

Straight Street came before the Hall County Board of Commissioners in late 2016 and early 2017 regarding rezoning 50 acres of agricultural property near Poplar Springs Road.

After a battle with the public for the rezoning request, Straight Street was given permission to build five residences with four residents per home. One house could be built each year.

While walking through the floor plan Friday, July 6, Straight Street Ministry Director Beau Robson said the house would offer life skills training as well as counseling for the victims.

Jennifer Robson, director of Beautiful Feet Ministries, has developed a background of helping victims of sex trafficking.
“It would be awesome for us to build two right away, since this is the second year from the rezoning decision, but it just depends on the budget,” Jennifer Robson said.

Straight Street’s facility is considered a phase II home, meaning it will house women who have gone through an initial assessment with one of the partner ministries, which include City of Refuge and Out of Darkness.

The partners house women for 30 to 90 days, send them through detox and work to place them in second-phase housing.

“They have more women than they have homes to give to,” Beau Robson said.

Jennifer Robson said they have the funding to proceed with the first home. It will still take another four to six weeks to go through the permitting procedures for the first house.

The Robsons said they would like to start right away and perhaps break ground in September.

Another option still months from opening is Sacred Roots Farm, a 350-acre farm that would house sexually exploited women and their children. According to the group’s website, its mission is for these women and children “to discover the trust, the healing, and the hope that God has created for them.”

The Times was unable to get a representative from Sacred Roots Farm to provide comments on the record.

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A drawing shows a house the Beautiful Feet ministry, a division of Straight Street in Gainesville, plans to build for women escaping sex trafficking. - photo by Scott Rogers