Niki Cross wants kids who are victimized by sex traffickers to know they can heal.
When Cross was a teenager in North Carolina, she became involved with an older man, a blonde, blue-eyed guy who was going to make everything in her life better, she says. Instead, he took her to a house in Ohio, where she was locked in an attic, assaulted and made to have sex with other men.
The man who kidnapped her, she said, groomed her first.
“He bought me clothes and jewelry and nice things. … I thought he was going to be the dream come true, and he turned out to be a nightmare.”
Now Cross is working through her organization, STAAR Ministries in Largo, to raise money to open a safe house for other sex trafficking victims.
“There is so much red tape to jump through,” Cross said. “These kids just don’t have the time. I know there is a process that has to take place, but these kids just don’t have the time.”
If STAAR raised enough money, it could open the house in six months, Cross said. She hopes to be ready within a year.
“I would love to open something that would house at least 50 girls,” Cross said. “But realistically, we’re trying to find a six-bedroom house” for 12 girls and a house mother.
Bridging Freedom is working on plans for a long-term, therapeutic, safe home campus in Hillsborough or Pasco County that could accommodate 50 sex trafficking victims, said its president, Laura Hamilton.
“We’ve been planting seeds for about two years now,” Hamilton said. “All the little seeds we’ve been planting the past two years are really springing up.”
Bridging Freedom is also raising money, hoping to get $2.6 million. It’s soliciting businesses and churches and hopes to have its campus ready this time next year. Off-duty police will provide campus security, Hamilton said. Depending on their level of trauma, residents will live there from a year to two years, she said.
Hamilton said she went through a two-year mentorship at a successful program in Georgia in preparation for the Bridging Freedom program.
Sex trafficking is “a poison,” Hamilton said. The victims “need to know that.”