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Selah Freedom CEO says trafficking victims are ‘sold for sex between 15 and 40 times a day’

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Selah Freedom CEO, Elizabeth Melendez Fisher

January marks Human Trafficking Awareness Month, a 31-day period when dozens of organizations and advocates enlighten the public on the “modern day slavery” happening in their own backyards. While the #MeToo movement has become the forefront of sexual harassment crimes the global epidemic of sex trafficking continues to get swept under the rug. With efforts of foundation’s like Selah Freedom lead by Elizabeth Melendez Fisher, who’s been instrumental in providing residential programming, outreach, and prevention for survivors, there is certainly progression towards ending the exploitation.

We spoke with Fisher recently to discuss some of the alarming statistics, major targeted areas, and how her foundation works to get the victims back on track after the traumatic experiences.

What prompted you to launch Selah Freedom and what is the focus of the organization’s work?

I did not wake up one day and say, “Oh! My purpose is to start this organization.” Rather for me, I [simply] was trying to do a woman’s event and find an underdog charity. I had just moved to Florida from Chicago and was told our local kids are being sold for sex.

Coming to Sarasota, Florida from a market like Chicago where you know your crimes –– we’re pretty notorious for what we do. To hear in Sarasota and the whole Tampa Bay region that our children are being sold for sex and purchased by our own people –– that is the definition of sex trafficking in America (Florida is number three in the country).

One out of every three little girls is being sexually abused and one out of every five little boys is being sexually abused.

They are coerced in and sold for sex [between] 15 and 40 times a day [affecting] over 300,000 of our American children at any zip code.

I literally just wanted to write a check but there was no one to write a check to –– it just snowballed. You can’t hear something like that and turn away.

Will you share with us some of the emotional and physical effects survivors deal with as a result of their trauma?

What I think is interesting is that people say, “Aren’t they choosing this?” What I can say is [most of our] survivors that have come through our residential outreach program have [gone to] drug or alcohol rehab usually around 20 times. Throwing a kid or a young adult into drug rehab to get better is the [equivalent] of trying to band-aid a symptom. The truth is until the root is healed they will just walk out of rehab and become numb again because they don’t want to think about all the things they feel. For us, the success has been really helping them get to the root and undue that trauma. We have an amazing partnership with Dr. Jason Quintal. The level of trauma these girls have is like nothing you could imagine.

How do you work to build trust with the survivors?

As I mentioned, we have a prevention arm which is to help kids from even getting into this. Our residential arm would not even have anybody in a bed if we didn’t have the outreach program. Our outreach program is literally in conjunction with: state attorneys –– judges –– courts –– law enforcement. We will sometimes pursue relationships with a girl that’s on the street, in jail, or in the court because of the circumstances of her being sold for sex.

How are health care providers, and emergency medicine physicians, in particular, uniquely positioned to help victims of human trafficking?

I think that it’s the first point of contact that walks in with the girl so if we have a girl that is needing medical care then having somebody that she trusts to go with her really helps. We trained a thousand law enforcement trainers just this past 12 months –– 40 of them in the state of Connecticut. First responders need to be trained so they can quickly shift and put on their compassion hats. If girls don’t look like victims but they are victims first responders need to change the paradigm of how they see this population. From the beginning, in 2011, cops were like, “We hate this population!” Now they are relentlessly running after them and helping them realize that they know. It was like if their daughter had something happen and they didn’t know and she ran into the hands of someone who’s been abusing her for six years on the street.

The average victim of abuse gets five to seven times of intervention before they will receive help because of the trauma and inability to understand that they need it so high.

Our girls will say it took two years of Selah telling me, “I’m worth more.” It took 20 times [before] getting me to take a bed. We have such a dedicated staff and community network in all of our markets around the country that are relentlessly pursuing these girls. It’s so hard to get them to trust –– two years of investment usually.

What percentage of recruiting happens via social media?

The percentages are increasing so rapidly. It’s interesting because a girl that’s been abused when was she’s little, now, her uncle may have used her for his fun or with a friend, and now, he [film’s] her for child porn-ups where anybody can buy it. He can advertise her through online sites where there’s code that people use when ordering a kid, almost like ordering a pizza. Many of the girls were escorted and driven into homes with people waiting to buy sex with them when they were 15 years old. Although the adult will claim, “I didn’t know she was 15!”

We have made it a commodity to buy sex anytime you want and there is plenty of places to look for it. Even with our children, the access that they have. I always tell people to beware of the power of the portal. The predators are so much more skilled on it then we are at reaching our kids.

What are some of the common trends you’ve noticed in terms of the victims the predators seek?

With international trafficking, it’s very different. Parents are deceived and they think they’re sending their kid off for this great opportunity or they can’t afford to eat so they sell a child. In America, it’s purely because of the epidemic and the secret of childhood sexual abuse.

For every girl that we’ve ever worked with, the statistics will tell you 92 percent of survivors of sex trafficking are also survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

Of the 3800, that we’ve worked with since we’ve started the organization in 2011, 100 percent of the abused kids was from someone they knew. It’s impossible to have a child be sexually abused and not have affected them in one way or another. Almost every woman I know has been abused. Our prevention program is my heart and soul because I believe every kid should have an opportunity to have an intervention to shut this down before reaching that point.

What is it about Atlanta that makes it the number one hub for Human Tracking in the United States?

I think that Atlanta is the same as Chicago and New York –– major metro cities. We’ve had a lot of girls run away from other markets to Atlanta. It’s just like the other major cities, it’s shared numbers. The bottom line is anywhere you go it’s happening but Atlanta is one of the forerunners.

We have one of the organizations their called Wellspring Living, which got [sex trafficking] on the radar by noting the numbers. It’s an epidemic and it’s happening everywhere. Atlanta is a destination city.

The International Labour Organization estimates that there are 40.3 million victims of human trafficking globally, about how many of the victims are rescued?

That’s a hard question because until a few years ago they weren’t even tracking it correctly with a system for the law enforcement to identify. They were convicting people with old slavery laws. In the last six years, they’re a [number] of laws that have been changed and is drastically improving.

The numbers are astronomical and they say half a million American kids are sold in any zip code. The very tip of the iceberg is what we are finally starting to reveal. There’s never been a 7-year-old that grows up and says, ” I want to be a sex worker.”

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Amber Guyger served with shocking sentence for the murder of Botham Jean

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 More than one week after her trial started and a day after she was found guilty of murder, Amber Guyger has been sentenced to 10 years, WFAA reports.

The jury has reached a sentence in the murder case against Amber Guyger.

The former Dallas officer was sentenced to 10 years.

Guyger was found guilty of murder Tuesday morning and the jury began sentencing deliberations Wednesday afternoon.

During closing arguments, the state asked the jury to sentence Guyger to a minimum of 28 years – the age Botham Jean would be today if he was still alive.

Judge Tammy Kemp told jurors that they could also consider “sudden passion.”

Texas law defines sudden passion as “passion directly caused by and arising out of provocation by the individual killed.”

Under sudden passion, a defendant faces between a two and 20-year sentence.

Over a two-day period, character witnesses for Jean and Guyger took the stand.

Bertrum Jean was first to be called by the state Wednesday morning.

“I loved my Sunday morning,” he told the courtroom Wednesday. “My Sundays have been destroyed.”

Sundays, he told the courtroom, were the days he would talk with his son on the phone after Jean returned home from church.

“Sundays are not a good day for me,” he said, breaking down in tears several times while on the stand. “Because I’m not hearing his voice.”

Jean’s mother took the stand the day before.

“I cannot sleep,” she told the courtroom. “I cannot eat. It’s just been the most terrible time for me.”

Karen Guyger, Amber’s mother, was the first witness called by the defense Wednesday.

She also became emotional on the stand as she described a young Amber Guyger, who she called sweet and someone who easily made friends.

Karen Guyger testified that a former live-in boyfriend molested Amber when she was 6 years old. He was later arrested on a charge of indecency with a child, she said.

“She was very upset,” Karen Guyger said of when her daughter first told her about the shooting. “I couldn’t understand her because she was crying so hard.”

“She wanted to take his place,” Guyger’s mother said. “She always would tell me she wished she could have taken his place.”

Tuesday, the day Guyger was found guilty, the former Dallas police officer was booked into the Dallas County jail. She was taken into custody outside of the jury’s presence at the end of the day.

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All Hail the Queen of Climate Strikes –– Greta Thunberg

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Greta Thunberg –– a fearless 16-year-old Swedish climate change activist who’s influencing youth around the globe to take action against global warming. 

GretaThunberg/Facebook

Thunberg has inspired the birth of more than 2,400 events across an estimated 115 countries and 1,000 cities from Sept. 20–27 as part of the UN climate summit. On Sept. 23, the changemaker is scheduled to make a formal address. 

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A few years ago, no one knew her name and, now, Thunberg has become a pint-sized force to be reckoned with, and politicians have taken notice. Who is she? Where is she from? How did she gain 1.2 million supporters? Here’s the scoop below:

 August 2018 changed the game…

In her home country of Sweden, Greta staged the first school strike for climate change) outside the Swedish parliament building in August of last year. Thunberg had been inspired by a previous school class walk-out, in Florida against US gun violence, and she thought it was the best way to break ground.

GretaThunberg/Facebook

It was just after Europe had experienced a record-breaking heatwave and forest fires had raged through Sweden. Her parents were unsure and none of Thunberg’s classmates were willing to join, but she went by herself, with her bike, a hand-painted sign, and climate change fact sheets.

Thunberg staged her strike every day until the Swedish national election and, slowly but surely, people started to join her.

Environmental consciousness runs in the Thunberg family…

 Her father is Svante Thunberg, an actor, and author named after Svante Arrhenius, the Nobel prize-winning scientist who first calculated how carbon dioxide emissions could lead to the greenhouse effect.

GretaThunberg/Facebook

 Thunberg’s diagnosis’ fuel her fire for change…

She was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome four-years-ago and she has since learned how to use it as a driving force in her campaigning, instead of letting it hold her back. Her Asperger’s means that Thunberg finds facts she learns about the environment more upsetting and distressing than others, and she can’t easily shake those feelings off. It’s spurred her on to act. She has also been diagnosed with OCD and selective mutism.

Thunberg discovered peace in panicking…

When she first learned about the climate crisis, she could not believe that adults weren’t making big enough changes.

“Our house is on fire. I am here to say, our house is on fire,” Thunberg wrote in a column for The Guardian. “Adults keep saying: ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope.’ But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.”

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Sandy Hook ‘Back to School’ PSA leaves Chills up America’s Spine

A gut-wrenching public service announcement produced by Sandy Hook Promise, a gun violence prevention group in Newtown, CT, took social media by storm Wednesday. The chilling PSA highlights the harsh reality of gun violence threatening the lives of millions of students across America when stepping foot on a school campus. The video quickly took a repugnant turn, as a gunman enters the school, forcing many students to use everyday “essential” supplies in the face of a possible school shooting.

Sandy Hook Promise aims to not only remember the victims of gun violence but to also to help prevent future gun crime.

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