Selah Freedom aims to help female human trafficking victims in Manatee, Sarasota

srocco@bradenton.comSeptember 20, 2013 

SARASOTA -- Selah Freedom, the Sarasota-Manatee nonprofit known for helping women victims of human trafficking, is launching a residential recovery program Nov. 1.

The 12-month program will provide women older than 18 with safe housing and coaching to pave the way back to a healthy life.

"We want to take women that have been through a lifetime of victimization, abuse and exploitation, and give them back everything that was stolen through restorative services," said Elizabeth Fisher, president and CEO of Selah Freedom.

The free program will involve a two- to four-week assessment phase where the staff will determine if the woman is ready for treatment and if the staff can meet their needs, Fisher said. Selah Freedom will not take in mentally ill women as the staff is not be equipped to treat them.

Eligible women will be able to live in the home and receive services. The property is able to house up to five women at one time.

The program, which will be staffed with life coaches, mentors, counselors and a clinical team all hours of the day, will reteach women how to live everyday life.

"The things we take for granted, like making a bed, cooking, balancing a checkbook: They've never had a normal life or developed normal life skills," Fisher said.

Melissa VanDyke, the first life coach hired, has overcome addiction and violent relationships. She's said she's ready to relate to the women and help them progress.

"I believe no matter how broken and hopeless you are, there is always room for hope and to live a free life," VanDyke, 30, said.

Most women Selah will take in will be coming out of abuse for the first time.

The typical survivor of human trafficking is someone who was sexually abused as a child. At age 12 to 14, they run away. Eighty percent of runaways are taken into the sex trade within 48 hours, Fisher said.

Right now, Selah Freedom is looking for women in the community to be a part of the program's care team.

"Some women could come in and lead a book club or teach how to cook cupcakes," Fisher said.

The hope is the victims will build friendships with women from the community to discover how natural friendships evolve.

"They're going to take their testimony and share it with other women," VanDyke said. "Then you have four women recovering, then eight, then 12 and it just keeps going and going."

Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow her on Twitter@sabrinarocco.

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