Speakers at the October meeting were from Selah Freedom. The following notes are taken from the meeting minutes.

Regina Napoli introduced Brenda McGowan, from Selah Freedom, an anti-trafficking non-profit organization. Selah Freedom is based in Florida and the Midwest with a mission to end sex trafficking and bring freedom to the exploited through five strong programs: Awareness, Prevention, Outreach, and Organizational Consulting.
Brenda has a heart for non-profit missions and has been providing multi-channel Database Marketing services for over 25 years. Her team manages Selah Freedom’s marketing initiatives to connect with donors, volunteers, create awareness, and in doing so develop vital business relationships. She is very active in her community involvement having recently served on the American Cancer Society’s “Making Strides” Committee, the FL Cancer Specialists Foundation, and volunteering for The Mark Wandall Foundation. Regina welcomed Brenda to discuss this particularly important topic.

SELAH FREEDOM: Brenda McGowan and CeCe Quinn

Brenda McGowan stated that Selah Freedom was founded in 2010 by Laurie Swink, Misty Stinson, and Elizabeth Fisher Good when they discovered the horrifying truth that local children were being bought and sold for sex in our communities, Selah Freedom is a faith-based nonprofit anti-human trafficking organization and is the model of how to bring solutions to survivors of sex trafficking and exploitation. Selah is a Hebrew word that means to pause, rest, and reflect, and at Selah Freedom they give survivors a chance to do just that. As a result, men and women in our programs can dream again and discover who God created them to be. Selah Freedom closely collaborates with the local police departments, FBI, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Tampa Bay Human Trafficking Task Force, legislators, and influential leaders to not only shed light on the staggering human trafficking statistics, but to change those statistics by changing lives.

Brenda reported that child sex trafficking has been reported in all 50 states in the U.S and is a $99 billion dollar industry. Two million children are sold each year through sex trafficking and many of the survivors at Selah Freedom report sexual abuse beginning between 3-4 years old. Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing epidemics worldwide, and the State of Florida is in the top three (3) states in the nation for sex trafficking behind California and Texas. Brenda stated that Tampa has more instances of sex trafficking than Miami and it also has more strip clubs than Las Vegas.
Brenda stated that nowadays a trafficker looks like any woman, man, grandparent, big brother, big sister, and there is no socio-economic difference. Sex trafficking is a big business and victims can be sold 15-40 times every 24 hours. Traffickers have made up to $1.6 million per year off of their victims. Traffickers recruit children into sex trafficking through close relationships, or “friending.” One in 9 children receive online sexual solicitation, and the average age of kids getting lured into sex trafficking is 12-14 years old. Statistically, the average age of children running away from home is 15-17 years of age. If the trafficker can get the child to run away from home they are picked up within 48 hours and the predator provides for all of their needs, including drugs and alcohol and makes them feel like they are loved. In a couple of days, the predator says the victim owes them and they are forced and coerced into sex trafficking. Brenda shared traumatic stories of sex trafficking victims, including grandparents who sold their granddaughter to fulfill their own drug addiction.

Selah Freedom provides an opportunity for the victim to start their life over again. Many victims do not realize they have been coerced since they began sex trafficking. Working with local law enforcement, Selah Freedom provides 2 safe houses for survivors that includes personalized educational plans, job placement, trauma therapy, life skills, medical and legal assistance, and holistic restorative care. Selah Freedom also brings human trafficking Awareness and Education to the community and organizations through their speakers’ bureau team, Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children 101 Course, law enforcement training, and Organizational Consulting. They also advocate for change through legislation. Their Prevention Program equips parents, youth and those who collaborate with them, with the tools they need to avoid being manipulated by a trafficker and successfully prevents them from being commercially sold. Selah Freedom’s Outreach Program is active in the jail system and on the street and provides support groups, case management, and referral services to victims currently in “the life,” as well as a prostitution court diversion program. Brenda stated that 87% of their graduates do not return to the life of prostitution, and 100% of the survivors in the Residential Program are pursuing their educational and career goals.

Brenda asked the audience to keep an eye out for sex traffickers in our area – spotting signs like a young person with an older man, bruising on children, or the all too familiar hand sign – tucking the thumb in the palm when waving. She warned us to never approach a trafficker. She also advised of opportunities to get involved that include volunteering at Selah Freedom, requesting an outreach speaker to provide awareness, supporting the Angels Club (a monthly giving club), and attending the big Fall Fundraiser “Light the Path” on Thursday, October 20th, at 7:00 pm.

At the conclusion of Brenda’s presentation, Regina Napoli presented Selah Freedom with a donation and thanked her for bringing awareness to our community, and for everything Selah Freedom is doing locally and throughout the country to stop sex trafficking.