Sarasota human trafficking victim speaks out | News
Sarasota, Florida - Human trafficking is a crime we often think of as a problem abroad. The reality is it's in our own backyard.
Experts say a human trafficking victim can be sold 15 to 40 times a day for sex; the trafficker can make up to $18,000 off of one person.
One local victim is trying to find a solution to this modern day slavery.
"I was sexually abused at 3... by 10 I was smoking cigarettes, pot, drinking getting in trouble and stealing cars... by 11, 12 I'm into prostitution," says "Bella," a human trafficking victim.
By the age of 13, Bella says the worst was yet to come. "My self-worth was gone, my soul was dead."
At 17 and a runaway, she met a man who would become her human trafficker for the next 10 years.
"I was forced to sell my body. If I didn't, I was beaten. If I ran away, he'd find me. I felt an obligation to him; he was my protector," says Bella. She says she traveled the country overseeing 14 of her trafficker's girls. Bella says, "You are a slave, you do what you are told."
"Statistics show within 48 hours, 80 percent of runaways are taken in some form of exploitation, which is human trafficking," says Elizabeth Fisher, founder of an outreach program for human trafficking victims called "SelahFreedom" in Sarasota.
Fisher says Bella fits the typical profile of a victim. "They've gone from being abused to having no boundaries with their bodies."
Fisher says human trafficking is a growing problem in Florida. Last week, Tampa police raided a massage salon for possible prostitution and human trafficking.
Fisher says, "What we found out: domestic children, domestic boys and girls, that Florida ranks #3 in the country, 2-3 for human trafficking. Within the state, the Tampa Bay area is #3 in state."
According to Fisher, human trafficking victims have less than a dozen places statewide to turn to for help. That's why she started SelahFreedoom, to help victims in the Manatee and Sarasota County area.
Fisher says, "By the time we get them, our main purpose is to speak identity into them, speak life back into them and show they are created for more."
A trip to jail and prayer helped Bella break away from her trafficker. Today she's giving back. "I believe I was brought out of this to bring awareness, to advocate, to save as many girls from death. That's what it is the reality of the streets is, death."
Bella does walk the streets these days, reaching out to other victims... except now she sells the message of hope. Bella says, "That there is hope, they have purpose, they are loved and valued."
SelahFreedom is a not-for-profit that offers support groups, mentoring, and a safe place for victims. In October, SelahFreedom will open a full-time residential shelter to help women restore their lives. Fisher says one day she hopes to open a shelter for young men who are also victims of human trafficking.
SelahFreedom depends on private donations. To help you can visit SelahFreedom.com or call for more information at 941-677-8840.