FOX23 Investigates how local organization helps child victims of sex trafficking

TULSA, Okla. — Sex trafficking is a hidden crime where traffickers often find child victims on the internet. A local organization called The Demand Project is working to help victims.

In a special series of stories, FOX23 Investigative Reporter Janna Clark continues to look into this tough subject.

The Demand Project, based in Tulsa, started in 2013 to help girls who are victims of sex trafficking. The project not only gives them a safe place to live, but helps them overcome their trauma.

Ten girls live on a campus connected to the organization. Janna did not report the campus’ location for the girls’ safety.

“Now we have one of the largest campuses in the entire U.S. for kids,” said Kristin Weis, the cofounder and CEO of The Demand Project.

“I heard a story about a little girl, 2 years old,” Kristin recalled. “Her dad sexually assaulted her. He videotaped the assault, and then he put it online for people to watch and thousands logged on.”

She said it was after hearing that story that she and her husband knew they had to do something. So they started The Demand Project.

“We had a normal life prior to that. And when we heard that story, it shifted everything for us,” she said.

Now, girls rescued from sex trafficking live on 54 acres of refuge. Plenty of space to get outside, exercise. There’s a crisis center, school and homes where each girl has a room to call her own.

The girls follow a regular schedule: go to school, do chores and fun activities like artwork and learning to crochet. The girls are between 11 and 17 years old, and they are safe on the campus. While there, they are also trying to deal with their past. Most of the time, the crimes against them started with a predator and/or a trafficker, seeking them out on the internet.

Janna asked, “How does a 12-year-old girl find herself on the internet and then end up getting trafficked?”

“You see all the social media sites where kids have TikToks. And they have Instagram, and they have Snapchat. And they have all these other apps on their phones, where they’re talking to people. It’s a predator’s playground,” Kristin explained.

She continued, “There’s a lot of luring and grooming, and it takes a lot of patience and time. And they have it.”

It’s not just an online crime. Kristin described a situation that happened to one of the girls at a Tulsa high school.

“She met a guy, and he was building a crew of young girls out of the school,” she explained. “He was a senior, 19 years old, staying in school to build his group of kids. He had an apartment a bar downtown Tulsa where he could bring the kids to. So they would go to school in the day, they would be sold late in the afternoon, evening. And then they would go home.”

Janna said, “These kids have dealt with trauma. I can imagine it’s incredible difficult.”

Kristin agreed.

“Oh, my goodness. The unwinding, the undoing of trauma is huge. What we have to do every single day to help these kids is unbelievable.”

It’s a two year program.

“I’d say about six months in, things get real,” she explained. “Now they’re starting to show the trauma. We’re starting to get down to the truth of what’s happened.”

Kristin continued, “We do individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy and equine therapy and art therapy and music therapy. Like there’s not enough therapy for these kids with everything that they’ve gone through.”

She added that her goal is to restore the girls.

“What does that word restore mean? You’re taking them back to a place where they’re healthy again, where they can have a good life again,” she explained.

Janna asked her what her hope is for the girls.

“My hope...” Kristin said. “I don’t want us to force our expectations on kids that have only had expectations. We can only plant the needs. And then from there, it’s their choices that determine what their future is going to be.”

Trafficking happens here and abroad. Janna just went with a team of Tulsans to help girls at a similar campus for girls, but it’s halfway across the world in the Philippines. Janna will take viewers on that journey starting Thursday.

You can read part one of this special series here.

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