ENGLEWOOD — “Taken,” a film about a man who tries to save his daughter from human trafficking, helped Vanessa Morris see how prevalent the problem is.
Morris, director of marketing at Selah Freedom, was the guest speaker Tuesday at the Just Neighbors at St. David’s Episcopal Church.
Sarasota-based Selah Freedom serves as a safe house for those who have escaped human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
“Our mission is to bring light into the darkness of modern day slavery,” Morris said. “When we come and present to places, churches or organizations like this, we really hope to bring awareness about the issue in general and let people know that it’s an issue here in our communities as well as inspiring people to take action against it.”
Morris came from a broken home with a mother who abused alcohol and drugs. Her mother, she said, was sexually abused at a young age, which led to a life of prostitution.
“I’m very blessed to say that eventually she was set free from that, but that’s not the case with most women,” Morris said. “They don’t get set free.”
Sexual abuse at home starts at age 8 or 9 on average, according to Morris. Eighty percent of runaways or minors are abducted within 72 hours for human trafficking. A person survives an average of seven years after being abducted for trafficking. Twenty-seven million people are trafficked around the world; 18,000 to 50,000 people are trafficked into the U.S.
“One thing that we found is extremely common in nearly all women who have been exploited is the abuse started at a very young age,” Morris said. “A lot of times, the sexual abuse began in the home by someone they knew, and after that kind of sexual trauma it causes them to get off their path. Florida is home to an exponential amount of runaways. Traffickers prey on that vulnerability.”
Morris said often many of the women who are arrested for prostitution are treated as perpetrators when they are in fact victims.
Selah Freedom works with law enforcement agencies and offers a variety of services, from help in finding jobs to offering support groups.
“We offer restorative services to women who have been involved in human trafficking, sexual exploitation and sexual trauma,” Morris said. Things like support groups so they can find hope and find truth about who they are and their identity.
“A sex-trade worker support group, which sort of functions like Alcoholics Anonymous but for sex workers, because a lot of times, prostitution is simply a veil for human trafficking. We also offer a support group for johns to discuss the nature of human trafficking.”
Under mentoring from Wellspring Living based in Georgia, Selah Freedom programs yield a 77 percent success rate, Morris said.
Pat Knox, a minister at St. David’s and organizer of Just Neighbors, said more awareness needs to be raised about human trafficking.
“This was an excellent presentation,” Knox said. “It’s something that’s out there that people are not aware of. I think (the issue) is going to grow. I think awareness is going to make things happen like (Morris) being able to get a safe house for people and to train these people to be able to work with the victims who have these kind of problems. You can’t just take anybody and have that person work with them. It’s going to take years to get their lives straightened out.”
The word “Selah” means to pause or to rest, Morris said. “That’s really what these women need. They need rest. They need time to recover.”
For more information, go to selahfreedom.com or call 941-677-8840.