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Victims of human sex trafficking trade find hope, shelter at South Florida nonprofit group

Valencia Bryant tells a TV station how she overcame being a victim of the human sex trafficking trade. She said the Phoenix Program at Camillus House changed her life. (Image source: YouTube screenshot)

A nonprofit group in Miami is helping women escape the stronghold of human sex trafficking.

One of those women is Valecia Bryant, who was sexually abused since the age of 5, WFOR-TV reported.

“When I was a baby my mother did sell me. She sold me for $500,” Bryant told the TV station. “I can remember the first time I was molested at the age of 5 years old.”

From there, the abuse continued to grow.

“It escalated to the point where I felt like that was why I was put on earth to be raped,” Bryant said. “You always felt like you was in chains. That’s how I always looked at my life.”

Her life as a captive prostitute led to drugs and violence and eventually brought her to South Florida.

“If I don’t perform I would get beat,” Bryant told WFOR. “So sometimes you have to weigh it out, which is going to be worse? The sex? The rapes or the beatings?”

How does this happen?

Traffickers often use “violence, threats, deception, debt bondage, and other manipulative tactics,” to ensnare people, according to Polaris, a nonprofit group aimed at fighting human trafficking.

Because it is difficult to track, there are no official figures on the total number of human trafficking victims in the U.S. But Polaris estimates that the figure reaches into hundreds of thousands of adults and children involved in either sex or labor trafficking.

Bryant was one of the lucky ones who found a way out.

After a brutal rape, she was referred to the Phoenix Program at Camillus House. The program is located in a secure wing of the facility and has 16 beds for victims of human trafficking and sexual slavery.

Women in the program live in a dorm-style setting, with bedrooms, a common area, a kitchen and a list of daily chores. Counseling sessions and art therapy classes are among the services provided.

Bryant said the program changed her life.

“Today I’m clean and sober,” she told WFOR. “I am free from all sex slavery. All sex slavery. I am not being abused. I am in a very safe place. My life has been saved.”

How many people have they helped?

Since 2015, Camillus House has assisted more than 110 victims of human trafficking, the report said.

“These are women that had choice taken away from them,” Hilda Fernandez, CEO of Camillus House told the TV station. “What choices did they have? Their choices were taken away from them and the fact that we can provide them a space where they can make new choices and we hope good choices about their future. That’s so empowering.”

Combating human trafficking remains is a top concern for Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.

“Our law enforcement efforts to combat the savagery of human trafficking are only the first steps in saving damaged lives,” Fernandez’s office said in written statement provided to the TV station. “It takes a strong community partner, like Camillus House’s Project Phoenix, to provide the shelter, the treatment and the support so essential in the recovery process for each of these human trafficking victims who have had so much of their future stolen from them.”

Women who go through the program at Camillus House can also become advocates for others who have experienced the same kind of abuse.

“I want to help the next victim, the next woman, the next child,” Bryant said. “Any sexual abuse — let them know that they’re not alone. That’s what the Phoenix Program teaches me, that I’m not alone.”

What is Glenn Beck doing to combat the problem?

Glenn Beck, founder of Mercury Radio Arts and The Blaze, is also active in working to combat the problem of human trafficking.

In 2017, Beck traveled with Tim Ballard, founder of Operation Underground Railroad, to investigate efforts to help stop human trafficking in to Thailand. Among the issues in that region are how to bring human traffickers to justice and provide support to victims after they are rescued.

Beck also recently shared his thoughts on O.U.R.’s new documentary, Operation Toussaint. He called director Nick Nanton a “great storyteller,” and someone who found a way to tell the story of slavery “in a way that moves people and is good. You leave feeling so hopeful.”

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