By Tom McGhee, for The Denver Post, on November 26, 2013—
“When Jason and Michelle Korth found that there were too few beds in the country to provide shelter for teen girls rescued from prostitution, they started Restore Innocence.
On Tuesday, the Colorado Springs non-profit, which now runs a safe house for young sex trafficking victims, and offers other programs to help them, received the Director’s Community Leadership Award from the FBI’s Denver Division.
Restore Innocence has been at the forefront of the fight against underage sex trafficking since the organization was founded in 2010, FBI Special Agent in Charge Thomas Ravenelle said.
Officials say underage sex trafficking is a growing problem. Pimps use force, fraud and coercion to manipulate victims, luring them into exploitative situations while typically promising them a better life.
The average age of a minor entering prostitution is 13, said Jason Korth. The average age of those who are served Restore Innocence is 16 to 17. Most are referred by law enforcement agencies.
When the couple began the organization, they noticed that young women who left the life “were really struggling to get on their feet,” Jason Korth said.
When victims are rescued, they frequently have no place to go and end up at ill-equipped shelters or treatment programs and can easily drift back onto the street.
A year ago, Restore Innocence opened Cinderella House, which works with girls 18 and older, provides a safe environment where the girls can stay while they recover from the trauma. It is a transitional home for girls making the move from a treatment center to independent living.
Only two girls at a time can stay at Cinderella House, which has been in operation for a year. “It is long-term and ongoing care. Our goal is to have multiple Cinderella houses,” Korth said.
The program helps them to learn life skills they need to get a job and make their way back into normal society.
Trained mentors work one-on-one with the girls, providing them with a safe person to confide in. The mentors help girls living at Cinderella House, and others who may be back at home with parents, or have other living arrangements.
The organization also provides “Restore Bags” filled with new clothes, toiletries and snacks, to girls taken off the streets in sting operations. That program started in Colorado and is now operating in 37 states.
Restore Innocence relies on a wide variety of funding sources, has a five-member staff, provides 12 mentors, and works with nearly 100 volunteers around the country.
Since 1990, the FBI has used the DCLA award to recognize the contributions of individuals and organizations to crime and violence prevention and education in their communities. Each field office selects one individual or organization each year.
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