Lisa Rowe, director of programming for Selah Freedom, said human trafficking isn’t an easy topic to talk about, “but it’s happening right in our backyard.”
Selah Freedom actively confronts the issue of sex trafficking and is considered to be the statewide model for how to effectively bring solutions to survivors of sex trafficking and exploitation. And it’s not easy.
“Often our outreach is in the jails and or on the streets,” said Rowe. “We can’t do it alone.”
Selah Freedom, along with the Salvation Army of Manatee County, law enforcement representatives, Finding our Greatness and Pastor James Roberts of the St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church gathered Thursday at the monthly meeting of the Faith Based Alliance held at the Pathways Christian Fellowship Center.
Never miss a local story.
Rowe said the challenge on the streets and in jails is that the victims often don’t even realize they are being trafficked.
We have to enforce the laws, but when dealing with these victims, we do it with love.
Bradenton Police Detective Yolanda Cox
“Many people say they are prostituting for their drugs, but in reality they are using drugs to numb the pain from prostitution. A lot of them come in the door and and they are so coerced into thinking they are prostituting because they want to.”
But it’s just not true, she said. Rowe said the victims have been systematically broken down for years until their self worth is virtually non existent. Selah Freedom spends up to a year with trafficking victims to help them rediscover that self worth and Rowe said that, often, it takes that long.
Mwezi Dake, founder of Finding our Greatness, a faith-based film and theater company that provides mentoring for at-risk children, said there is a growing dilemma in how sex is devalued by students. Dake said there are games that exist in high schools where a girl will “win the lottery” and be sold off to male students in order to make them more popular.
“The challenge is to get them to see themselves in a different light,” said Dake. “There also is a rise in young men being sold in our high schools and there is another game where students have a contest to have the cutest baby.”
$150 billion The amount made each year worldwide in the human trafficking industry
$35 billion The amount made in the United States by trafficking human victims
300,000 The top end estimate of the number of American children sold into sex slavery each year
20.9 million The number of people worldwide who have been sold into slavery
Salvation Army Major Marion Durham said it’s a spiritual fight.
“We don’t call ourselves the Salvation Army for no reason,” said Durham. “We are part of a battle bigger than ourselves. Prayerfully consider your part in this part of spiritual warfare.”
Bradenton Police Detective Yolanda Cox and Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Detective Maria Gillum shared their stories of trying to help trafficking victims while also enforcing the law. They explained the challenges they face as law enforcement officers and the lack of trust from victims in wanting to speak to them.
“They aren’t going to talk to us about where they came from,” said Gillum. “Many times they are under the influence of some type of drug, so the officers don’t have time to know for sure if they are a victim of human trafficking.”
Both detectives say their agencies have devoted personnel and departments that are designed to help trafficking victims. Cox said it’s also about the street-level approach.
“We have to enforce the laws, but when dealing with these victims, we do it with love,” she said.
Criminal human trafficking is the second most commonly committed crime behind only the illegal drug trade.