Sex trafficking is a gruesome epidemic that continues to plague the state of Oregon, and now a local resource center that helps young sex assault victims is shutting down two of its programs.
This news comes on the heels of another discovery; FOX 12 investigators have uncovered that same center is accused of mismanaging $38,000.
Many survivors depend on crucial support at the Sexual Assault Resource Center, or SARC.
But now FOX 12 discovered that the center has spent tens of thousands of dollars - and the county says it’s not sure where that money went.
In a YouTube video, SARC Executive Director Erin Ellis talked about the organization’s mission to help survivors.
“When I get to see lives change and the hope that walks through our door every day, it doesn’t matter how horrible their experience has been, there’s hope that stays alive in these children,” said Ellis in the video.
When detectives find minors who are victims of sexual assault, they can call the experts at SARC.
“There are 95 of us trained to do this work, available at a moment’s notice to come out and begin building rapport,” said Ellis in the YouTube video.
But now, two of SARC’s programs, RYSE and STRYDE, which help minors involved in sex trafficking, are shutting down.
FOX 12 obtained an email from SARC that was sent to county officials and detectives. In part, the letter states:“SARC’s organizational infrastructure is no longer capable of supporting RYSE and STRYDE. In light of this heartbreaking determination, RYSE and STRYDE will be ramping down services during the first half of 2018 and will cease to operate under SARC in early summer.”In light of the news, FOX 12 spoke with Rose Bak, co-director of Multnomah County’s Youth and Family Services Division. Bak oversees the federal grant that funds SARC programs.
“We’ve already gotten several calls from law enforcement saying, my gosh what do we do now?” said Bak.
Bak has a lot of questions herself. She said during their annual audit her team noticed irregularities with SARC’s finances.
“In the end we’re quite concerned that the expenses were not justified and were not used in the purpose intended, and because of that we’re concerned that children are not being served,” said Bak.
FOX 12 obtained documents from Multnomah County which shows of the $171,000 invoiced to the grant by SARC, over $38,000 remains to be properly documented. Those documents also claim salary expenses for SARC Executive Director Erin Ellis have been unallowably charged to the grant.
Bak said currently $38,000 is unaccounted for and she doesn’t know where the money is. Bak also said in recent months they’ve repeatedly requested verification that the money went to the right place, but so far, the county hasn’t received that proof.
Now Bak is trying to prepare for when the SARC services close. Bak said she wants to make sure the young victims living in the shadows have a place to go.
“When there’s no services available, they’re forced to go back to that life. Either back to a person that’s trafficking them, or to be vulnerable to be picked up by another person who will also traffic them,” said Bak.
According to Bak, the county doesn’t have a contract with SARC, but, it does work with another organization called Janice Youth, which has a contract with the center.
FOX 12 reached out to SARC but hasn’t heard back.
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