THE RANCH SITS JUST OUTSIDE HOUSTON, down a farm-to-market road and off a winding path.
Like most ranches, the entrance is guarded by an unmarked gate. You press a button, explain your business, and the gate opens onto a narrow road flanked by horses munching on grass. Birds chirp as they wind among the loblolly pines that blanket the 110-acre expanse before you. A rooster crows in the distance. Paddle boats and canoes are lined up at the dock on the ranch’s small lake. It feels like a summer camp here; in fact, it once was.
The main building resembles a large log cabin, with rustic wood rocking chairs on the porch and a makeshift soccer field out back. Inside are long corridors of typical teen-girl bedrooms—walls painted in soft colors, piles of clothes—in two separate wings, with a spacious kitchen and living room in between.
You see girls taping up homemade posters on the walls, written in purple and pink and decorated with photos and decals. “Vote Destiny for President,” one says. “Your voice, your choice” reads the cursive script beneath it.
“They are learning about women’s rights,” says Shandra Carter, who runs the ranch. Its name, Freedom Place, cannot be found on any map, which is no accident. The ranch exists for the tranquility, privacy and protection of its residents, underage Texas girls who are victims of sex trafficking.
FOR DESTINY*, it all started one day in 2014 after she missed the bus to school. Normally, the boys in her Northline neighborhood would walk with her to the bus, but she was running late and they didn’t wait. Destiny, who was 15 at the time, dreaded waking up her stepmom and telling her that she’d missed the bus again. Instead, she decided to catch a Metro bus. On her way to that corner, she noticed a truck circling the block—once, twice, several times. The driver looked familiar. He’d asked her before if she wanted a ride.
Destiny turned around and broke into a run, racing back to her subdivision. The truck soon pulled up behind and the man jumped out, grabbing her. She froze.
“I didn’t fight or nothing, you know?” she says now. “I didn’t know what he would do to me, and I didn’t know what to do.”