Puppy therapy. Horse therapy. Art therapy. These are just some of the innovative ways that 2019 Make It Better Foundation Philanthropy Award winner Selah Freedom has committed to restoring the lives of child sex trafficking victims. In fact, “selah” means “to pause, rest, and reflect” in Hebrew. Combine that definition with “heal,” and you have the foundation of Selah Foundation, located in Sarasota, Florida.
Co-founders Elizabeth Fisher, Laurie Swink, and Misti Stinson established Selah Freedom in 2011. Selah Freedom, which was founded in Chicago (the fifth-biggest market in America for child sex trafficking), has now expanded into the Selah Way Foundation, a nationwide network of resources that is focused on prevention and protection. The organization has safe houses in both the Midwest and the Southeast. Most recently, a five-bedroom house at an undisclosed location in Chicago became Selah’s first Midwestern safe house, thanks to the work of 150 volunteers.
The vast majority of victims of sex trafficking have experienced sexual abuse from a young age (typically around three years old) and run away around age 12 and enveloped into sex trafficking within 48 hours. Combatting the myriad abuses sex-trafficking victims suffer, Selah Freedom is a residential treatment facility that offers everything from safe housing to trauma therapy to job placement.
Before any other treatment starts, however, Selah Freedom helps survivors access the roots of their trauma so that they can later address other issues, such as drug abuse, suicidal ideation, and more. The efforts of this organization have proved fruitful: so far, 100 percent of their clients have gone on to earn a GED and move toward college. Not only that, the organization has been so successful that former clients of Selah have gone on to work with the organization, helping others navigate the world of recovery.
The Selah Way Foundation focuses on connecting volunteers, faith-based organizations, law enforcement officials, and community leaders to victims in need. Fisher, a Chicago native, is personally passionate about educating law-enforcement officials about childhood sex trafficking so that it can be identified on a local level. In fact, that law enforcement training led to a partnership with the Houston Police Department during the 2016 Super Bowl, the nation’s most highly sex-trafficked event. Earlier this year, Selah Freedom gave a presentation just one day after 40 people were arrested in a sex-trafficking ring in Atlanta, days before the 2019 Super Bowl.
“People ask me all of the time how I can be involved with this work — that it must be so dark,” Fisher told Better in an interview early last year. “But Selah is most involved when the victim is ready for a new life. Sometimes we need to chase them for a year or two to let them know they have worth, that there is somewhere for them to go. It takes a very resilient girl to turn her life around.”
By the Numbers:
- 300,000 children are sold into sex trafficking each year
- 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys will be sexually abused
- Sex-trafficking victims are sold 15-40 times every 24 hours by their trafficker
- Sex trafficking is a $32 billion crime industry in America
- Florida ranks third for sex trafficking in America