Restoring the lives of young women rescued from sex trafficking

Youth Center of Texas Restoring Lives

Residents of the Youth Center of Texas are in many ways typical young women in their late teens and early twenties. They love music, clothes, doing their hair and nails and making plans for the future.

To look at them, you’d never know they are all survivors of sex trafficking in San Antonio.

They’re now receiving comprehensive care through YCOT, the only residential facility in Bexar County providing support services exclusively to young women aged 18-22 who have experienced sexual exploitation or trafficking.

In San Antonio, when teenagers are rescued from sex trafficking, they are typically placed in juvenile detention because of a lack of other care facilities. However, when they turn 18, government-funded social services end. Without resources to make other choices, many end up back in abusive, exploitative situations.

Since its inception in 2019, YCOT has offered young women not only a safe place to live in its 8-bed residential home, but also specialized case management, individual and group therapy and life skills classes. YCOT also provides long-term case management services to former residents until they reach 24 years of age.

While many people realize that human trafficking is a global problem, they’re often shocked to learn that children are trafficked in the San Antonio community. Every survivor that the Youth Center of Texas has served since opening in 2019 has been a U.S. national living in Bexar County.

“It has become a problem right here in the communities where we live. We don’t have to look at Thailand or the border with Mexico to find it. It’s here,” said Adriana McKinnon, president and CEO of YCOT.

YCOT is unique in its goal of providing wholistic, long-term support for every aspect of a survivor’s life to help them recover and prepare for the future. Survivors have not only suffered trauma, but have missed crucial years of healthy, normal development, such as one survivor that YCOT served who was trafficked from ages 11 to 16.

“You are looking at years and years that she missed of normal development, developing healthy social skills, attending school, making friends, just being a kid,” she said. “Once the survivor has an opportunity to leave that abusive and horrific situation, it takes time to recover.”

McKinnon became president and CEO of YCOT in 2021. She first began working with victims of sexual exploitation in 2013 as an employee at the Women’s Shelter of South Texas in Corpus Christi. Being bilingual, she came to specialize in helping Spanish-speaking victims of human trafficking coming across the border from Mexico, Central America and South America.

That experience inspired her to become a licensed counselor to provide clinical services to survivors. Today, one of her goals is to recruit more mental health professionals into the field of helping human trafficking victims. She supervises counseling interns from UTSA at the Youth Center.

“It’s a field that oftentimes professionals don’t want to go into. It’s difficult. It’s heartbreaking. You can get easily discouraged,” she said. “But it’s also so worth it. I know healing is possible. I know it can happen. I have seen it.”

                McKinnon recently completed the Fellowship at Social Venture Partners San Antonio, where she learned from the many experts who share their knowledge with the nonprofit leaders in the program.

                “I learned a lot, but one of the biggest things was the amazing professional connections that I made,” McKinnon said. “I love all the expertise in one group.”  

Her fellowship training gave her knowledge and connections that will help her continue to grow YCOT, such as adding a program for young male survivors of human trafficking and continuing to educate the community about childhood sexual exploitation in San Antonio. 

“I want people to know that the young people who have survived sex trafficking are worthy, and they really, really deserve a chance to heal,” McKinnon said. “So now we’re here to offer them a healing path and restoration, and to help them start a new healing journey.”