STORY BY PAM HIGGINBOTHAM. PHOTOS COURTESY OF RANCH HANDS RESCUE.
“I’m a survivor.”
These words, spoken by Bob Williams, rape survivor and founder of Ranch Hands Rescue, should never be spoken by anyone. But the difficult reality is that sexual violence happens every day, all over the world, to men as well as women. In addition to individual acts of violence, organized sex trafficking has now become a multi-million dollar industry that impacts thousands of victims’ lives yearly.
Bob’s own life was changed forever after he was brutally beaten and raped as a teenager, resulting in a week-long hospital stay. Only adding to his trauma, the assault happened at a time when the stigma surrounding sexual violence against men prevented conversation and awareness in his community. Even Bob’s father told him to “man up” and never talk about it again, adding to the pain he had already suffered.
“I couldn’t process what happened to me,” Bob said. “So I turned to drugs. I barely graduated high school.”
In addiction for almost 11 years, Bob struggled to restart his life and worked every type of job he could to make ends meet. A major turning point came when he was offered a sales job with Motorola.
“It was a commission job,” he recalled. “If you didn’t sell, you didn’t eat.”
Bob would go on to become the top salesman in the country before being promoted to sales manager. He was told that to keep rising in the ranks of the company, he would need to continue his education, so Motorola helped him get back in school. He was diagnosed with PTSD, as well as anxiety, and began learning different methods to cope with what he had been through.
“I understand trauma. And I’ve had a lot of treatment, inpatient and outpatient, and a lot of counseling,” Bob said.
Unafraid of sharing his story, Bob is using his voice and experience to share hope with others. He began Ranch Hands Rescue originally as a sanctuary for farm animals who have endured severe abuse and neglect and later expanded to become a safe haven for men, women, and children who have experienced extreme trauma. An unexpected and special bond formed between the animals and clients as they helped each other through their journeys to healing.
Before starting Ranch Hands Rescue, Bob spent years healing from his own trauma. During these years, he formed a close friendship with actress Doris Roberts, before she became famous on the hit show, “Everybody Loves Raymond.” He didn’t realize at the time that she would become his role model. Years later, while visiting her in Los Angeles, Bob’s face and arm suddenly went numb.
“I thought maybe I had a pinched nerve or something,” Bob says. “Well, she got kind of panicky and called her doctor. He examined me and said, ‘I think you’re having a stroke’.”
After being admitted to the medical center and receiving stroke medication, Bob was told he would need almost a year and a half of recovery.
“The interesting part,” he said, “was that the first thing the neurosurgeon said to me is, ‘You know, you’ve not only had a stroke, but a series of mini-strokes, which probably happened over the years. What is your history of drug and alcohol abuse?’ They saw it in my brain. And so, I decided to leave Motorola and do something I wanted, but I didn’t know what it was.”
Bob said he started saving animals by accident. “Just something to do,” he said. One day, he was at an appointment with a neurosurgeon and a heart doctor when they both noticed a big change in him. They said he was like a different person. Bob, who said he has always been a little high-strung, attributed his wellness to the animals. With only him caring for them, a special bond formed.
Bob recalled Doris asking him, “Have you ever thought about starting a public charity? And if you do, I’ll help you raise money.”
He loved the idea and told her, “I want to do that, but I want to do more than that. I want to help people.” He wasn’t sure exactly how he was going to do that, but eventually, everything fell into place.
Ranch Hands Rescue began rescuing animals in 2008 and then received its public charity status in 2009. The next year, their Equine and Animal Assisted Counseling program was formed.
“My whole life, especially in recovery, people always said to me ‘you can’t do this, you can’t do that’, and you have to prove them wrong,” Bob said. “Because when you’re recovering from something, people look at you differently. I think we all need role models in life. Doris was an amazing role model for me. Doris had a motto: ‘I don’t give in. I don’t give up. I don’t take no for an answer. And, I never, ever settle.’ I knew Doris before she was famous and I love that motto. It always resonated with me over the years and I tried to apply it to my life.”
After experiencing his connection with animals through healing, Bob began to research the power of animals and their effect on mental health therapy.
“We knew that there was a tremendous amount of data about the power of horses with the Wounded Warriors riding therapy […] that lower blood pressure in hospitals and nursing homes,” he said. “But there was not one piece of data in the entire world on the power of abused and neglected animals and mental health therapy. Everybody that I reached out to told me that you could not partner abused, neglected animals with abused, neglected people, and that you had to have healthy animals. Everywhere I turned, I got shut down.”
Bob deeply believed his concept was going to help people, as well as animals, and was determined not to give up. A counselor Bob has shared his story with agreed to bring a couple of the children she was working with to try therapy with the abused animals at Ranch Hands Rescue.
She was very surprised at the results, and told him, “You know, I think you’re onto something here. I seem to be able to get to the root of the trauma quicker. There’s a bond between the child who has been hurt, and the animal who has been hurt. These kids are saying things to the animal instead of me.”
Excited about the progress, Bob asked the counselor to help him develop a program and a presentation to share with the community. Although everyone loved what he was doing, no one requested the pilot program. Finally, in 2010, The Children’s Advocacy Center agreed to adopt the program. It became a huge success, and Ranch Hands Rescue is currently partnered with 28 agencies.
Almost 80% of Ranch Hands Rescue clients are children. The other 20% of clients are adult sex trafficking victims, veterans with severe PTSD and anxiety, battered women, and the list goes on. Grant partnerships and donations allow the center to provide services for free or at a reduced cost. Helping children holds a very special place in Bob’s heart.
“We specialize in children because I couldn’t process what happened to me at 17. I couldn’t imagine a 4-year-old, a 6-year-old, or a 10-year-old, trying to process what somebody has taken from them,” Bob said. “In my case, I felt everything was taken from me. So, that’s my passion.”
The Ranch Hands Rescue staff works together as a team to contribute to the unique healing process for each individual and are all trained in trauma-informed therapy. The staff consists of seasoned professionals that have worked with sexually abused individuals, primarily children, for years. Sand therapy, art therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and play therapy are only a few of the methods used to counsel clients at Ranch Hands Rescue.
“We take the best practices from a bunch of different modalities in an effort to get to the root of the trauma,” Bob said. “Once we get to that trauma, we can develop a solid plan for healing.”
In 2021, Bob’s House of Hope – a Ranch Hands Rescue program – was started to support the often overlooked population of boys and men that are victims of sex trafficking. Bob’s House of Hope is the first safe house in the country for young men that have been sex trafficked.
“The myth that boys can get away, the myth that it doesn’t happen with boys, the stigma that’s associated with it, is a huge problem,” Bob said.
Serving on the Governor’s Human Trafficking Task Force and the Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Task Force, Bob works with teams around the state and the country that aim to research and prevent sex trafficking. According to two studies by the Department of Justice and End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism (ECPAT), an international organization, between 36% and 38% of human trafficking victims are boys.
Both studies say it is extremely underreported. We believe that 50% of trafficking victims are boys,” Bob said. “Regardless of what the number is, it’s happening in every city and every county, in every state across this country, and every country around the world.”
After Bob began to research facilities for male survivors of sexual abuse and trafficking, he was shocked that there was not one safe house for boys.
“These are innocent victims that are falling through the cracks and that nobody cares about, until now,” he says. “So, educating people and creating awareness of this horrific act, has been my number one mission.”
After opening Bob’s House of Hope, the house was already full the first week. Bob said he could use 50 more beds yesterday, trying to keep up with the overwhelming need.
Extensive testing is done to understand each individual’s level of trauma, which is almost always off the charts. A unique and comforting way to welcome each young man to the facility is the gift of a teddy bear.
“These are, on average, 20 year old boys. They sleep with their teddy bears, and most can’t get enough teddy bears. They have never had a teddy bear. They need something to hug,” Bob said. “The animals that live there are just as important to them because they have a horse to hug, or a dog with three prosthetic legs. It’s important for them to learn how to take care of the animals and how to take care of themselves, and it just takes time.”
Trust is a very important part of the healing experience for the young men; but, after enduring so much trauma, it can take a long time for them to feel they can trust anyone. A sense of community builds after the boys realize they are safe and can trust again.
Bob explains to them that trust is earned saying, “It’s okay that you don’t trust and you may not want to open up right away. I get it. But you are safe, you’re going to be cared for, and you’re going to get all the love that you can handle. And, and the rest is up to you.”
An integral part of Bob’s House of Hope is being actively involved in catching the perpetrators of sex trafficking. Bob sees this as a part of the empowerment process for clients, allowing them to overcome their fear and regain a sense of control.
Most adult male victims have been trafficked since they were anywhere between 13 and 15-years-old and have never had a normal childhood. Even though they are over 18-years-old, they are still children emotionally. With 7th grade being the average completed grade, many of the boys lack the life skills they need.
“These kids don’t even know the basics of how to make their bed, do their laundry, or how to balance a checkbook,” Bob said. “We have mentors that come in and teach them how to save money and manage their money.”
The clients at Bob’s House of Hope are employed by the ranch, working a couple of hours each day if they want to buy something the house doesn’t supply. In addition to doing their trauma work, the young men are working on completing their GEDs, with two currently attending college.
Bob is thankful for the opportunity to help others.
“It’s really the greatest thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “To be able to save animals and provide a better home for them. Also, to have a counseling program that helps those kids that were like me, because I struggled for a lot of years, and I didn’t see any hope. The most important thing we can give them is hope, without judgment, that we’re going to help them.”
He added, “I think one of my strengths is understanding. I have been through a lot in life. I learned from Doris that I don’t have to be right. But, I know in my heart that if I put the best interest of the animals, the clients we serve in our counseling program, and the boys in the home first, and the staff, I’m always going to make the right decision. My belief is that we have a moral obligation to help as many people as we can, without judgment, and that we should all be working together and taking care of each other.”
Ranch Hands Rescue is a nonprofit human and animal sanctuary founded on hope and healing for the long term recovery of trauma victims, special needs animals, and male survivors of sex trafficking. Ranch Hands Rescue is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, making your donation tax-deductible. Sponsoring an animal or birthday party, hosting a fundraiser, or becoming a mentor are just a few of the volunteer opportunities available. Find out what you can do to make a difference in someone’s life by visiting the Ranch Hands Rescue website.