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.”
Black Student Awarded $725k in Lawsuit against Neo-Nazi Follower
The first black woman to serve as American University’s student government president celebrated Friday after a lawsuit win in federal court against a neo-Nazi website manager who launched an online hate movement against her.
A federal judge awarded Taylor Dumspon, 22, approximately $725,000 after The Daily Stormer blog founder Andrew Anglin failed to respond to her lawsuit.
Dumpson was named student government president in 2017. The historic moment on AU’s campus amassed the attention of dozens of white supremacists, including Anglin, who directed his followers to troll Dumpson via social media after hearing the news, and a suspect who hung nooses with bananas containing racist messages on the university’s campus.
Here’s a breakdown of Dumpson’s settlement:
- $101,429.28 for compensatory damages
- $500,000 for punitive damages costs
- $124,022.10 for attorneys’ fees and costs.
The judge is also said to have placed a restraining order against Anglin, his Moonbase Holdings limited liability company, and Brian Andrew Ade for internet harassment.
“This ruling should send a strong message to other white supremacists that they can and will be held accountable for hateful activity that constitutes unlawful discrimination, no matter whether it occurs online or in the real world,” said Kristen Clarke, the president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. The organization represented Dumpson in the case.
Walmart Employees Call for the Corporation to Cease Profiting of Gun Sales
Enraged Walmart employees are demanding the retail giant revoke its firearm sales following the back-to-back mass shootings at locations in El Paso, Texas and in Dayton, Ohio’s downtown district. The senseless killing sprees took the lives of over 30 victims and caused dozens of critical injuries.
The aftermath has left thousands of the corporation’s employees on edge, including, Thomas Marshall, a manager in Walmart’s San Bruno, California, e-commerce office, who took the initiative to organize a massive walkout on Wednesday. Marshall also requested his associates sign a Change.org petition, calling for the retailer to refrain from selling guns and ammunition.
“We have one demand, and that is all. We value Walmart and our fellow associates, but we are no longer willing to contribute our labor to a company that profits from the sale of deadly weapons,” the petition reads.
“We would like to see Walmart take a unified and public stance against guns and gun violence. We urge our leadership to cease the sale of all firearms and ammunition, ban the public open and concealed carry of weapons on company property and in all stores, and cease WALPAC donations to NRA backed -A/A+ politicians.”
Marshall’s petition has garnered nearly 60,000 signatures and continues to rapidly climb. While the courageous manager fears his job is in jeopardy, he intends to ramp up his protest by sending the petition directly to Walmart CEO Doug McMillon.
McMillon released a statement Wednesday, expressing his grief over the shootings. He ordered violent video games to be removed from all of the stores shelves but failed to address the elephant in the room –– gun distribution.
“We’ll be thoughtful and deliberate in our responses, and will act in a way that reflects our best values and ideals, focused on the needs of our customers, associates and communities,” he wrote.
Eric Garner Supporters Disrupt Cory Booker’s Speech during Democratic Debate
The second Democratic debate in Detroit got real heated real quick. Just moments into Cory Booker’s speech, the presidential candidate was instantly disrupted by a rowdy group of protesters, bringing attention to the brutal killing of Eric Garner.
On July 17, 2014, Garner died after being put in an aggressive chokehold by New York police officer Daniel Pantaleo. The incident went viral and catalyzed a national movement against police brutality and racial discrimination.
Five years later, on Tuesday, the Staten Island grand jury has voted not to indict Pantaleo, causing an uproar among the Black Lives Matter organization and the victim’s family.
While the protest may have inconvenienced Booker’s moment to impress America, the timing was perfect in the eyes of the hecklers to call out the injustice they believe has occurred. ‘Fire Pantaleo!’ they chanted in unison, demanding for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio who has also thrown his hat in the 2020 election to terminate the officer effective immediately.
Booker chose to take the high road and showed his support on Twitter for the protest.
‘To the folks who were standing up to Mayor de Blasio a few minutes ago – good for you,’ he said.
‘That’s how change is made.’
De Blasio also responded, stating the issue would be resolved in 30 days but did not confirm whether the police officer would be fired.
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