SARASOTA, Fla. - Human trafficking on the Suncoast is a real problem, and one that a group called Selah Freedom is looking to fix. Now, less than 3 years after opening their first assessment home, they’re opening a larger safe haven for sex trafficking survivors.
Their new safe house has the potential to house 4 times the number of women they've been able to house so far in Sarasota.
The organization was founded by two women who saw a need and decided to meet it. "To think that you're doing something that is significant, that is going to impact lives and not impact lives just for a moment but for their destiny," says co-founder Laurie Swink.
In an undisclosed and safe location, on nearly 5 acres of land, the new main home provides 6 beds sponsored by individual local organizations, who put their own unique touch on each room. Community rooms with inspiring artwork fill the home, and there is room for further expansion. They plan to expand to add 10 more bedrooms for independent and empowered living.
"The beautiful thing about everything we offer is its comprehensive. So we have individual therapy, we have group therapy, we have horse therapy, we have art therapy," says co-founder Elizabeth Fisher.
The women will be able to rest and receive individual and group therapy, along with skill training and mentoring. "For them to be able to just stop the chaos of life and to be able to be in a place where it's healthy for them and where they have support...they have an opportunity," says Swink.
With two new bills signed into state law, traffickers will face stricter penalties; and now the Department of Children and Families will get involved to certify and inspect safe houses, among other things. But what does that mean for these safe houses functioning for years without government interference?
"I don't think it's going to hurt, I think it's going to help. But I think in that there will be more of those regulations and processes because they're going to come and they're going to look at the ones that are already doing it," says Fisher.
While Selah Freedom would not be regulated by DCF, since they serve women 18 and older, their success as an organization has been recognized by Governor Scott, and now DCF plans to come and learn how Selah Freedom runs their program.