The faith-based organization Selah Freedom has helped thousands of sex trafficking survivors find a place of healing thanks to three women who heard horrendous stories and decided they wanted to make an impact.
Selah Freedom was founded in 2011 after one of its founders, Laurie Swink, heard stories about trafficking victims and realized they needed a safe place to recover. Unable to sleep because of the weight of the issue on her heart, Swink founded the nonprofit alongside two other women-Elizabeth Melendez Good and Misty Stinson.
“So that’s how Selah Freedom got started,” Executive Director Stacey Efaw said. “Three women hearing about a horrible issue and deciding they were going to make a change.”
Selah Freedom partners with various agencies in the United States, including the National Trafficking Shelter Alliance. Although a majority of the nonprofit is government-funded, the organization also receives financial support from individual donors, and raises money through fundraising events. Local police departments that work with Selah Freedom provide the nonprofit with referrals to help it connect with human trafficking survivors.
- One out of three girls is sexually abused. One out of five boys is sexually abused.
- The average age of entry into sex trafficking is 12-14 years old for girls.
- Once in “the life,” a trafficker will sell a girl 15-40 every 24 hours, for up to seven years.
- Sex trafficking is a $32 billion dollar business.
“If there’s a prostitution sting, we’ll go out with them on the sting,” Efaw says. “Often, that’s where survivors are found. We go into the jails weekly and have jail groups, and anybody who has been arrested for prostitution, we meet with.”
Selah Freedom has two campuses. One is a short-term campus, where all participants stay for six to nine weeks before they are presented with the option of transferring to a long-term facility. Some survivors may prefer to leave the area, because the location may be the site where they were trafficked.
Many participants at the short-term campus typically were in a detox shelter or jail before coming to the facility, according to the director. During survivors’ stays at the short-term housing facility, the staff allows them time to process everything while gradually counseling them as they contemplate their next steps.
“Sometimes we get survivors that have been arrested for prostitution, and then later, after working with them, they’ll admit that they were being trafficked,” Efaw said. “They’re often very afraid to admit it.”
The organization is open to helping people of all faiths, Efaw said, and women can still receive their help even if they’re not Christian. She estimated that about half of the women who go through the program attend church, and if they desire a more spiritual component, the option is there, but it’s not forced on them.
“They need someone that loves them, is not judging them,” Efaw said about the more secular survivors the organization has helped. “And we just try to show up.”
–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice