'It's the greatest thing I've ever done': Assault survivor serves as inspiration for trafficked men

Posted at 1:05 PM, Jan 31, 2023

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story mentions abuse and assault which may be triggering for some readers.

DENTON, Texas — There's always been a stigma around males being abused, which makes it really hard for victims to come forward and seek help.

The response Denton resident Bob Williams received when he was first sexually assaulted as a teenager was pretty common for boys his age.

"My father was retired military," he told 25 News. "When he picked me up from the hospital, I spent about a week in the hospital because I was beaten to a pulp, he said, 'Man up, we're never going to talk about this again'.

"I couldn't process it, so I turned to drugs and alcohol and struggled for about twelve years."

Now he's more than 30 years sober and helping others just like him.

"When I first found out there was a problem with boys and nowhere for them to go, I said we can fix that," Williams said.

He now owns Bob's House of Hope and Ranch Hand Rescue, which helps young men who are survivors of human trafficking.

"We're the experts in this space because no one has ever done this before," Executive Director Landon Dickeson said. "We're creating all of the things needed for their recovery because no one else ever tackled this before."

The facility is the only one in the country aimed at helping male survivors, despite them making up an estimated 36% of human trafficking victims.

"It's extremely underreported," Williams said. "We believe up to or over 50% of human trafficking victims are boys and young men, and nobody is talking about it."

"This is an overlooked population," Dickeson added. "This is a group of young people who have never gotten the help they needed. They've been turned away time and time again. Not only have they been abused by the perpetrators but also by the system that's supposed to be protecting them."

Dickeson said stigma is the biggest reason these conversations are kept in private.

"There's a pervasive belief that it doesn't happen to boys, or that boys can get away, or that people don't do that with young men but that's simply not the facts, it's simple not true," he said. "It's the culture around it where these young men don't want to come forward and one could hardly blame them."

Bob's House of Hope offers a safe space for survivors to live and recover.

"The philosophy behind treatment at Bob's House of Hope is about going beyond the word treatment," Dickeson said. "It's about meeting them where they're at, looking them in the eyes and making sure they feel heard right out of the gate."

The top priority to make their residents feel safe. They also help with drug and alcohol recovery, finishing school, finding jobs, and preparing them to return to society.

For one resident we'll call "Frank", feeling safe was the biggest adjustment.

"The hardest part was knowing that you're safe," Frank said. "It took several months to understand what safety really is and what love is being given to us at the program."

"These young men come in with such fear and so many trauma reactions, they're shaking and crying and having panic attacks daily, nightmares," Dickeson said. "It's so heartbreaking and heart wrenching to see."

Bob's House of Hope partners with Ranch Hands Rescue counseling to give the men a chance to work through their traumas with both therapists and farm animals also rescued from traumatic situations.

"These animals that have been through abuse and neglect, they get it on a neurological level," Dickeson said. "At the brain stem level, they understand what these young men have been through and words aren't needed. There is language happening, but it's without words."

Frank felt that connection to an alpaca named Mohawk.

"With animals it's similar to humans, when they've been neglected or they have been through trauma, they just want love at the end of the day," he said. "When you share those experiences, animals draw close to you and understand there is hope."

Both he and Mohawk found that love and hope under Williams, who serves as an inspiration to many of the residents.

"Even though they've been through unthinkable trauma, it's all possible and I'm living proof of that," Williams said. "I've had an incredible life and now I'm able to help other people."

Williams calls himself "one of the lucky ones" to find success after trauma and said it was important to him to help others do the same.

"It's the greatest thing I've ever done, being able to help as many people," he said. "I had a stroke in 2007 and I thought 'whatever time I have left, I want to do something really good.'"

Frank said Williams has been a huge inspiration to him since he started staying there.

"If I was to have a dad, he would be the first person in mind," he said. "He taught me what unconditional love is."

Frank now hopes to follow in his footsteps and inspire others as well. His goal is to go to college, become a counselor, and return to the ranch to help others.

"It's such a dream job for me to be able to use my experience and to shine it upon others who've felt the same situation of not being love, not worthy enough," Frank said.

Bob's House of Hope is the only facility aimed at helping male survivors in the United States. Williams said demand for their services is far bigger than their current facility.

They are planning a 40-acre expansion in Texas and to open new locations around the country.

There are a few signs you can look for if you suspect someone might be a victim of human trafficking including not having control over their own money, young people spending a lot of time with older men, unexplained cuts and bruises, and tattoos or branding of ownership.

If you expect someone might be trafficked, you can contact the Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.