Grandparents Providing A Safe House For Sex-Trafficking Victims

sex-trafficking victims
May 10, 2015 6:00 pm  •  By Keila Szpaller
This is the second in a two-day series on sex trafficking in Montana. The collected stories are available on Missoulian.com.

That was the breaking point for the teenager who landed in the Montana safe house, the only one in the state, according to the couple who took her in.

Kailyn had ended up “in the life” the first time after her father got mad at her for getting a boyfriend and put her on a bus from Dallas to Chicago where her mom lived, said  Rick and Pat Freeland. The teenager had no phone, no food, and no money.

The man who whipped her probably meant to beat Kailyn into submission. Instead, the violence opened her eyes to the fact that her life was in danger, and the teenager fled to a gas station where an attendant called the National Trafficking Hotline.

A mutual contact called the Freelands, who remember the phone ringing at 10:39 p.m. The call would bring the first victim of forced prostitution to their doorstep, a log home in a quiet corner of Montana, a place as far away geographically from the streets of Dallas and Chicago as it is metaphorically.

The contact knew the couple had planned to open their home to victims of sex trafficking.

“We’ve got a young woman. Can we bring her up?” the contact asked.

“You bet,” Rick said.

The couple had one caveat, though. He and Pat wanted to be sure the woman was coming of her own volition, and they wanted to hear her say the words herself.

Rick remembers the squeak at the other end of the line: “Kailyn said in this mousy little voice, ‘I want to come to Montana, and I want to get away from this. I’m in danger. I’m tired of living like this.’ ”

The Freeland home has long been a hub of activity for teenagers in Montana, ever since the couple raised their own three daughters. When they came face-to-face with sex trafficking in their travels overseas and then learned of its presence in Montana, they committed to fighting it.

“We knew this is what we were supposed to be doing,” Rick said.

A few days after the call, Kailyn walked into their home. In her big furry boots, large sweater, and wig, she reminded Rick of a wolverine. That and an ungulate.

“She walked through the door like a deer in the headlights,” Rick said.

That was three years ago. All told, the Freelands have hosted five teenagers, all but one a victim of sex trafficking; they remain in touch with all but one of the young women.

Pat and Rick met at Oral Roberts University and have been married 40 years. She’s a small business owner, he’s a master electrician, and neither has a background in law enforcement, mental health or trauma counseling.

To do their work, they rely on their commitment to the cause, a network of support, and their faith. They’re pleased the Montana attorney general has listed them as a resource on its website about human trafficking.

“We don’t have all the skills to deal with what they’ve been through,” Pat said of the teens. “We’re not psychiatrists. We’re not counselors. But we know girls, and we know how to help them find their dreams again.”

The Freelands were first drawn to victims of human trafficking after traveling to Thailand around 1985. Pat collects porcelain dolls and was visiting a supply company.

Rick was along for the ride.

“This had been eating on me for years. In Thailand, you could buy a boy or girl for 40 bucks, like a pizza,” Rick said.

“It was like a room service menu. We couldn’t get over it,” Pat said.

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