AUSTIN, Texas – According to the Texas Attorney General’s Office there are nearly 80,000 child victims of sex trafficking at any given time in the state of Texas. A common misconception is that victims are either homeless or in the foster care system, when in reality they can come from every socio-economic and racial background.

  • Victims can come from any background
  • Austin woman found need for transitional housing
  • Nicole’s Place to open in spring 2020

When one Austin woman realized that minor sex trafficking was such a prevalent issue, not just in the entire state but in every community, including her own, she knew she had to take action.

“What I learned after delving deeper into this situation was that there was a whole continuum of care necessary to treat survivors of domestic minor sex trafficking,” said Austinite Lisa Knapp. “We needed to educate police officers, so that they didn’t arrest these children, we needed to fund a drop in center, so that children would have some place to go to when they were able to get away from their pimps, we needed to fund long term. We needed to fund transitional living so that when they turned 18 that they would be able to get the skills that they needed to live on their own. And what we noticed was that, Austin, Texas-- the capital of Texas-- had absolutely no place to bring these children when they first present themselves.”

Knapp is the founder of the Austin 20, a nonprofit that advocates for child victims of sex trafficking. But she quickly realized, that wasn’t enough.

“What was the glaring issue here in Austin, Texas, and that was an emergency center,” said Knapp. “An emergency center to immediately get these children to safety. To be able to evaluate them and figure out what these children needed immediately. And then to evaluate which long term treatment center would best fit them, because many times what we do is we send these children to whoever is available. That's not okay. We need to find the right programs for the right children.”

Knapp realized that a six-week waiting period for most long-term care programs left many children slipping through the cracks, often returning to their traffickers.

“It’s a very crucial time, it's a critical time when a child is able to escape from this horrible, horrible crime. You have to get them right there and then, that's the time that's critical,” said Knapp.

“It takes an enormous amount of strength and courage to exit that,” said Allison Franklin, who is a survivor of sex trafficking. “That time period, that very moment that that individual exits that and doesn't have support, they're going to go right back, and possibly not even make it, because they've already left that situation and that is extremely, extremely dangerous.”

In just eight months, Knapp rallied her community and built the beginnings of a short-term care facility for child victims of sex trafficking, before they enter long-term care.

“She’s a force of nature all right, but she gets the job done and all my men are happy to pitch in to help,” said Sam Jamell, president of Jamell Contractors.

“The subs are the guys who are really stepping up, and they are donating just immense amounts of time and expertise and materials and it’s - it's amazing to see that community in particular come together and, you know, and champion this cause and give their time and their hearts,” said Ben Broughton, construction manager and board member for Nicole’s Place.

He says this entire project is something only Knapp could have done.

“The thing that I think is so powerful about Lisa is that she’s authentic,” says Broughton. “It draws people to her, but it also, it’s contagious! She is the force behind this that has created the movement that I think is becoming such a large and contagious movement.”

In December, the Austin 20 celebrated the first cabin at Nicole’s Place.

“What is behind me is not one person, not 10 people, not 100 people. This is a community. This house was built by Austin, Texas,” said Knapp.

“This is a place where the victims of child sex trafficking can come, a safe environment a supportive environment with wraparound services to begin that difficult and lengthy process of recovering from a life of victimization,” said Chief Brian Manley, of the Austin Police Department.

Nicole's Place is personal for Knapp. Nicole was her cousin’s daughter. She died at 21 after being a victim of abuse and trafficking.

“She had a child, three children. And, two of whom I adopted, and my daughter and my son, Bella and Michael, decided to call the home Nicole's Place in honor of Nicole, but also as a testament to what we never want to see happen to another child again,” said Knapp, who says she is nowhere near finished.

“I want to build this out so that we can serve as many children that need us,” said Knapp, who hopes to eventually have 10 cabins be part of Nicole’s Place. “I want Nicole's place to be that safety net for kids who feel like they don't have anyone. I want Austin, to be safe for our kids.”

It’s a dream she is fighting to make a reality.