Popular Northern California Home for Sex Trafficking Survivors Closes

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SACRAMENTO -- Supporters of a well-known nonprofit that takes in young sex trafficking victims in Northern California and Africa were hit with an unexpected surprise.

On Friday, Courage Worldwide sent out an email announcing they've temporarily closed their Northern California facility.

"It was just a perfect storm where we realized we had to pause at Courage House to bring in new staff to train them better," said Stephanie Midthun, the Community Relations Director of Courage Worldwide.

Courage House NorCal closed in mid-June, but the letter came out Friday morning, two months after the temporary closure. (A copy of the email is available below.) Founder and CEO Jenny Williamson points to changing state regulations, which she claims put the girls in danger.

Midthun says the nonprofit disagrees with the state's idea of what's best for the girls they take in.

"They are saying they have these rights, but those rights are not safe for our home," Midthun explained. "So that is the conflict, and that is what we are going to fight and it's for the safety of our kids."

Documents from the state Social Services Department show a series of visits and numerous citations since last year. Documents reveal some of the girls at courage house felt intimidated by staff.

Other complaints include the Courage House using the girls' medical information for their training program without asking permission. In addition, pictures of the girls living in the house were reportedly posted on social media.Courage Worldwide

Back in January, the state ordered the non-profit to take them down.

The Courage House also had a policy of taking away the girls' cell phones and computers, which they were cited for.

"Since 2011, in our program statement, it says no cell phones, because the cell phone is a weapon for a trafficker," Williamson said.

In an email sent to supporters Friday, the organization stated they are feeling pressured to adopt the new rules, but told FOX40 they have filed an appeal with the state.

Williamson says a handful of employees have quit in recent months, and she's laid off about a dozen others.

As Courage Worldwide's Northern California location remains closed, attempting to adapt and improve, they continue to hold events and fundraise.

"Our operation isn't just one group home," Williamson said. "We are an international organization."

Still, there are questions being raised. Should they have notified their supporters and donors of the temporary closure earlier, as they were still raising money.

When FOX40 asked Willamson if that raises ethical questions, she responded, "I do not believe so."

Meanwhile, both Dignity Health and Mercy Foundation have backed out of a partnership with Courage Worldwide to build a cottage for the nonprofit.

"Dignity Health and Mercy Foundation remain committed to ending human trafficking by partnering with other organizations dedicated to this cause," a statement for Dignity Health read. "Dignity Health has put a hold on fundraising efforts through Mercy Foundation for Courage House."

FOX40 also spoke to Traffick911, another human trafficking organization in Texas where Courage Worldwide is looking to expand.

"As another organization in the fight to free youth from sex trafficking, Traffick911 has great respect for the leadership, programs and outcomes of Courage Worldwide.

In fact, we have referred a number of Texas sex trafficking survivors to Courage House NorCal. We welcome their expansion into the state of Texas as their proven residential program is in great need in our state. Having operated a safe home for teen sex trafficking survivors, we gained insight into the unique needs caused by their trauma and victimization. Mainstream residential licensing standards may not be conducive to, or even safe, for the restoration of this adolescent population. These survivors deserve the State’s and providers' protection from their perpetrators. "