How Mingus Mountain is helping children go from surviving to thriving.

 “God’s Children Are Not For Sale”But are they? You may have seen or heard this quote from a film that was recently released, The Sound of Freedom. This film features a federal agent who quits his job and puts his life on the line to rescue a young girl alongside hundreds of other enslaved children. Leaving the film, I had searing visuals in my brain of the worst humanity can offer: Predation on children. Does this type of thing actually happen in this country? In Arizona? 

The answer is yes. Arizona had 217 confirmed cases of human trafficking in 2021 with 337 survivors—That’s just those that were discovered. (Arizona 2023) On average, children enter the sex trade at just 12-14 years old. Predators can rent a child for a single sexual act for an average of $90. Children are forced to have sex up to 20 times a day, 6 days per week. The International Labor Organization has estimated that there are currently over 246 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 actively being trafficked. (ACF 2023) As of January 23, 2023, Arizona’s Attorney General’s Office was actively prosecuting 138 cases of sexual crimes. (Lum 2023) 

Equine Therapy at Mingus Mountain

One third of child runaways will be approached by a trafficker within 48 hours, making them very high risk. (Human Trafficking Search 2022)

What happens when our law enforcement officials or community members rescue a child from sex trafficking? 

71% of trafficking survivors report that they have been subjected to violence. (Stöckl et al 2021) Survivors of this type of trauma are commonly diagnosed with behavioral health disorders, including PTSD, substance use disorders, anxiety disorders, depressive disorders or reactive attachment disorder. Guilt, shame, and alienation are normal feelings for these victims as they try and get back to “normal” life. Quick solutions are not possible; healthy recovery necessitates intensive treatment in a safe environment. These children need a safe harbor to heal from the scars their world has left upon them. Do safe spaces exist? 

I am currently the Executive Director for Mingus Mountain Youth Treatment Center, a treatment center for teenage girls primarily located in Prescott Valley, Arizona. Every day, 111 teenage girls receive treatment at our treatment program from across the State of Arizona. Mingus is a scenic and serene 120-acre campus that embodies a beautiful mountainous landscape—A Sanctuary designed for a teenage girl to start her healing journey. 

I refer to Mingus as a “Sanctuary” because the program was recently certified in the Sanctuary Model™ in June 2023. This is a rigorous three-year process of assessment, implementation and evaluation of treatment programming to determine if the program is creating a trauma-informed environment for healing to occur. Our model of care develops shared knowledge, values, language and practices for all within the community to effectively take care of the vulnerable people we serve. 

Children who enter the program complete a series of screenings and assessments which evaluate their health and wellbeing as well as guide their treatment plan. One of those assessments is called the HTRisk Assessment. This assessment measures risk factors for child trafficking such as runaway history, substance use, living situation, and relationships. This tool is designed for girls ages 12-17 who are most at risk of being trafficked into the sex trade. Using this clinical information, Mingus connects those at high-risk, as well as confirmed survivors, into our Empowerment Over Exploitation program. This program contains two different tracks: One being a preventative program track for sexual exploitation while the other one is designed to educate and empower confirmed survivors. 

The preventative program that Mingus uses is called “My Life My Choice”. This program provides an in-depth examination into vulnerabilities that our girls have. It helps the youth shift away from the path that leads towards sexual exploitation. This curriculum looks at what trafficking is, unhealthy relationships, substance use, and low-self-esteem as imperative risk factors. Sexual and reproductive health education and real stories of trafficking victims are also included. 

The confirmed survivor program that Mingus implements is called “Ending the Game”. This program provides a structure and framework to repair the harmful psychological coercion our girls have suffered from through their experience being trafficked. The goal of “Ending the Game” is to unravel the mind control techniques used by traffickers and empower the victims with the skills to recover from the trauma of trafficking. 

In the last year, 45 teenage girls have successfully completed these treatment programs due to active participation and engagement at Mingus. They each have the opportunity to return as “mentors” to other girls in the program. 

In May of 2023 Representative Selena Bliss and Senator Ken Bennett visited Mingus in-person and we were able to share more about what is being done to treat young people who have survived child trafficking. As Arizona continues to work to help survivors recover from their wounds, we are grateful to our legislative champions, who are critical partners in the goal to raise awareness and keep children safe. 

A Call to Action 

Sadly, God’s Children are, in fact, for sale.

Here are some action steps that can be taken by legislative and community leaders to support this tragic need: 

  • Work collaboratively with the Arizona Human Trafficking Council and its partner agencies to identify legislative and statutory pathways to support survivors of human trafficking 
  • Increase funding for evidence-based programs and services who work with survivors of human trafficking 
  • Allocate meaningful financial subsidies and grants for first responders, service industry staff members and treatment providers to gain specialized training 
  • Conduct in-person visits to shelters and treatment programs, such as Mingus, where mental health experts and direct care workers are working tirelessly to support trafficking survivors 
  • Attend educational conferences or seminars to increase knowledge about human trafficking, including the Dream Conference here in Phoenix 
  • Donate or volunteer to organizations such as Phoenix Dream Center, Phoenix Rescue Mission, Arizona Anti-Trafficking Network, Project Light, & Southern Arizona Against Slavery