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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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Watch Live Coverage as firefighters work to cease the Notre Dame Cathedral fire

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Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt / AFP-Getty Images

A fast-moving fire consumed Notre-Dame Cathedral on Monday in a massive blaze that devastated the Parisian landmark, an unfortunate loss for the city and for the world.

Flames reportedly began in the early evening burst rapidly through the roof of the centuries-old cathedral and engulfed the spire, which collapsed, quickly followed by the entire roof.

A huge plume of smoke wafted across the city and ash fell over a large area. Parisians watching from the other side of the River Seine gasped as the spire folded over onto itself and fell into the inferno.

President Emmanuel Macron said the whole nation was moved. “Like all our compatriots, I am sad this evening to see this part of all of us burn,” he tweeted.

At around 1930 GMT, nearly three hours after the fire started, a Fire Department spokesman said the next 90 minutes would be crucial in seeing if the blaze could be contained.

“Basically the whole rooftop is gone. I see no hope for the building,” said witness Jacek Poltorak, watching the fire from a fifth-floor balcony two blocks from the southern facade of the cathedral, one of France’s most visited sites.

Firefighters tried to contain the blaze with water hoses and cleared the area around Notre-Dame, which sits on an island in the River Seine and marks the very center of Paris. Witnesses said the whole island, the Ile de la Cite, was being evacuated.

The French Civil Security service, possibly responding to U.S. President Donald Trump’s suggestion that firefighters “act quickly” and employ flying water tankers, said that was not an option as it might destroy the entire building.

“Helicopter or plane, the weight of the water and the intensity of dropping it at low altitude could weaken the structure of Notre-Dame and cause collateral damage to surrounding buildings,” it tweeted.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May said their thoughts were with the French people. Merkel called the cathedral a “symbol of France and our European culture”.

The Vatican said the blaze had caused “shock and sadness” and said it was praying for the firefighters.

The cathedral, which dates back to the 12th century, featured in Victor Hugo’s classic novel “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site that attracts millions of tourists every year.

For live coverage, click here.

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Watch Steve Mnuchin Go head-to-head with Maxine Waters during heated testimony

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Trump mocks Rep. Ilhan following supporter charged with threatening to kill her

“Special thanks to Rep. Omar of Minnesota,” Trump said. “Oh, I forgot. She doesn’t like Israel. I forgot. I’m so sorry.”

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