Florida shelter helps survivors of sex trafficking recover from trauma and abuse

TAMPA, Florida – After the Super Bowl, the I-Team reported on a rescue operation and an arrest on Tampa Bay Human Trafficking Working Group conducted in the weeks leading up to the big game.

RELATED: Super Bowl LV attracted sex traffickers who sold victims for sex in Tampa Bay

When an arrest takes place or a victim is rescued, these highlights tell only part of the story. I-Team Investigator Kylie McGivern went behind the bust to reveal details of what happens before a rescue and where a victim will recover.

Detective Andrea Hughes, of the Tampa Police Department, said anti-human trafficking nonprofits are a critical asset in the fight against sex trafficking.

“They provide us with leads for the people they serve, who may have come back to life, who may now need to come out,” Hughes told the I-Team.


During a police undercover operation or injection, Hughes said that many times a victim may not fully open up because they are afraid – of law enforcement and their trafficker .


“Victim advocates can come in, provide that connection to the victim, get them services, whether or not it’s drug rehab or just a place to stay. And then we can come back and do a follow-up interview with them, but we still have the connection between our victim service providers, with us, and the victims, ”said Hughes.

Selah Freedom, a non-profit anti-human trafficking organization based in Sarasota, is one such organization, as part of the Tampa Bay Human Trafficking Task Force.

Misty LaPerriere of Selah Freedom works with local law enforcement as a liaison and trainer, to share how to better spot and identify human trafficking.

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LaPerrière’s contact with the survivors, the relationships that are sometimes formed over the years, have led to recent rescues.

“As we speak to survivors, they open up to us. Maybe they’re sharing information about their trafficking and still have the option to report the crime, ”LaPerriere said. “Then we find out in which area the crime took place and we get our hands on law enforcement so that they can investigate, which can sometimes also help us track down a victim of human trafficking. human beings and to make the trafficker responsible. “

LaPerriere shared that in his experience, it typically takes seven to eight points of contact with a survivor before they are ready to accept help.

“There is a lot of manipulation that comes into play,” she says. “Sharing with these victims of human trafficking that they love them, that they want to travel with them, have a life of adventure, that they will save money thanks to this and be able to have their own.” family ‘, then there’s a ton of manipulation going in and tackling the vulnerabilities of our young people.

I-Team survey: children sold for sex


LaPerriere said there is a lot of preparation for each rescue operation.

“Whether it’s clothes, a blanket, do we have detox beds lined up? Because the last thing we want to do is be there to have one of these operations and have nothing to offer them. Because then it’s like, what’s the point? Said LaPerrière.

What begins as awareness and a safe place to sleep could turn out to be the turning point in a survivor’s life.

RELATED: Non-profit organization rescues woman in Tampa, leads to arrest of man accused of human trafficking

“Not only giving them a place to go, but we also meet with them to provide them with trauma therapy, educational resources, professional resources, food, clothing, I mean the survivors of our program receive a equine therapy, ”said LaPerriere. “There are so many services for them to really help them heal that they so deserve.

Selah Freedom’s confidential shelters are meant to feel right at home and provide a safe space to unwrap trauma.

One of the houses can accommodate 11 survivors. Selah Freedom’s program ranges from 9 months to a year – sometimes even longer.

When asked what the shelter means for survivors of human trafficking, Residential Coordinator Madeleine Childers said, “For most of our survivors, it literally means life or death.”


“It’s a place they can call home, maybe for the first time,” Childers said. “We had a survivor who walked into our program and on the first day she stood in front of her bed and cried, just because she couldn’t remember the last time she had a bed. that was right for her.

Childers said much of the program helps survivors find out who they are and what their interests are.

“A lot of times our survivors come in and don’t really know who they are or what they want,” Childers said. “Do you love art? Do you love arts and crafts? Do you love to cook? Do you love to read? Do you love journaling?”

Seemingly normal daily activities can be very powerful, Childers said.

“Just allowing them to have these normal experiences, maybe for the first time in a very long time, helps them build those pieces of identity where they can become the person they want to be,” he said. she declared.

If you believe you are a victim of human trafficking or if you suspect that an adult is a victim of human trafficking, please visit the National Anti-Trafficking Hotline or call 1-888-373- 7888. If you suspect that a child is a victim, please call the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE.

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About Joaquin Robertson

Joaquin Robertson

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