It felt like a glamorous pool party the evening of Nov. 15 at the top of The Westin Sarasota.
Guests lined the perimeter of the rooftop pool, drinks in hand, and admired the sweeping views of downtown Sarasota.
But the reason the 250 guests gathered at Selah Freedom’s Rock the Boat Against Sex Trafficking was anything but glamorous.
“If you think any girl has dreams of being a prostitute and being tricked out 20 times a day, you’re wrong,” said Chairman Marko Radisic, speaking about how several well-known Sarasotans have told him they won’t support the nonprofit because they view the victims as prostitutes and drug addicts.
President Elizabeth Fisher said this fall fundraiser was the first of its kind for Selah Freedom because it focused on the outreach programs that have helped 1,200 people to date. It’s also the first time the organization has hosted an event chaired by a male, and she thinks Radisic’s participation is important because he can inspire other males to get involved in the cause.
The event featured speeches by Lieutenant Demetri Konstantopoulos of the Sarasota Police Department, major donors Cindy and Mark Pentecost and a Selah Freedom graduate.
Konstantopoulos says the local police force was hesitant to believe at first that there was sex trafficking happening in Sarasota, but now they’re doing everything they can to prevent it and aid victims.
“We do have a problem here and we have to put in all of our effort into stopping it,” he said.
The Selah graduate told her story of struggle and triumph after receiving help from Selah and the local police department. Together, both groups helped her clear her record entirely, and a year to the day of her speech, she helped convict her trafficker of two consecutive 50-year sentences — the first human trafficking conviction in Sarasota County.