When Elizabeth Fisher moved from the North Shore to Florida several years ago, she was looking for a quieter life with a slower pace. Little did she know what the universe had in store for her.
Fisher relocated to Sarasota, Florida, in 2010 and went to work organizing a women’s leadership event for more than 300 women. Through that endeavor, Fisher met Laurie Swink and Misty Stinson, two women who had recently opened a home for those rescued from the horrors of sex trafficking. Fisher learned that Chicago is one of the top five cities for sex trafficking in the country. She soon partnered with Swink and Stinson to found Selah Freedom, a national organization that actively confronts sex trafficking by providing education and training throughout the country, as well as teen prevention, outreach, and safe housing in the Midwest and Southeast regions of the United States.
“People have this notion that sex trafficking is something that only happens in other countries — that it’s happening far away,” explains Fisher, Selah Freedom’s CEO. “The reality is much closer to home. More than 500,000 kids are sold for sex each year in the United States.”
Those who fall victim to sex trafficking are often girls who have been sexually abused, many by someone they know. Often these girls run away to escape the horrors they’re experiencing at home, and find themselves being approached by someone in the sex trafficking industry. “The traffickers make empty promises of security and a much better life,” Fisher says.
“Selah,” a Hebrew word that means “to pause, rest, and reflect,” provides just this to those rescued from sex trafficking, often young women between the ages of 18-26.
“People ask me all of the time how I can be involved with this work — that it must be so dark,” Fisher says. “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.”
Selah Freedom’s residential program offers a beautiful, peaceful, and safe place for the victim to stay and recover, a personalized educational plan, job placement, trauma therapy, life skills, medical and legal assistance, and holistic restorative care. Kenilworth’s Jenn Davidson headed up the entire home renovation project in Chicago for Selah’s first Midwest safe house and oversaw 150 local volunteers that contributed to restore the five-bedroom space.
Additionally, Selah Freedom brings awareness and education to the community and organizations through their speakers’ bureau, law enforcement training, and their organizational mentorship. Selah Freedom’s outreach program is active in the jail system and on the streets and provides support groups, case management, and referral services to women currently being victimized by traffickers.
“Selah Freedom is setting the standard for positive outcomes,” says Fisher. “We are one of the fastest-growing organizations in the country but we need to continue to grow so we can eliminate sex trafficking all together.”
To that end, Selah Freedom is hosting Cocktails for a Cause on Thursday, March 8, from 5:30-8:30 p.m. at the Chicago Yacht Club. It will be an evening of cocktails, hor d’oeuvres, and live music as Selah Freedom raises awareness of their work and impact. One anonymous donor has promised a $350,000 matching gift for the Chicago-area program.
“This is a time for people to rise up, spread the word, volunteer, and help us continue changing the world,” Fisher says. “We are saving lives.”
To learn more about Selah Freedom or to register to attend Cocktails for a Cause, visit selahfreedom.com.
Ann Marie Scheidler is a contributing writer with Make It Better who has made a career writing about people, their favorite places, and the things they value most. Ann Marie, a pearl-loving yogi who has a thing for travel, lives in Lake Forest with her husband and five children.