Francie Chapman, standing in a room that also included her husband Duane Chapman — the TV star known as “Dog the Bounty Hunter” — told an audience it was miraculous that years ago, she never found herself in the situation of being trafficked, as those in Selah Freedom’s programs have.
“While I hated how I felt inside, I was running from me, and I didn’t have anybody that kept coming back and saying, ‘We love you, and we’re going to be there for you, and we’re not going to give up on you, and we’re not going to walk away from you, and we’re not going to let go of you. We’re right here,” Chapman said.
A faith-based nonprofit, Selah Freedom seeks to offer support and solutions to survivors of sex trafficking while also fighting to prevent the crime. The organization hosted the Chapmans on Nov. 9 during its Light the Path gala, held at Embassy Suites Hotel.
Executive Director Stacey Efaw said it was exciting to have the celebrity presence of Dog the Bounty Hunter at the event, describing an “astronomical” need for awareness and funding.
She said the organization recently received cutbacks in government funding while its safe homes are now at capacity, with a waiting period of up to three months.
“It’s nice to have a big-name celebrity get behind this issue,” Efaw said. “A lot of celebrities have avoided it, and he's just ready to tackle anything, and he's very passionate about helping people who have been exploited. He’s not shy; he’s not going to back down from it.”
“This is one of the greatest programs I’ve seen,” Duane Chapman told the audience. “Just by adding faith to these girls, giving them sisterhood and support, they’re going to make it, and a lot of these girls … stay in the program and teach others.”
Prior to the Chapmans’ speech, the dinner event also featured a speech by a survivor, Breanna Cole, and a video presentation by another survivor in attendance, Gabby Triplett.
Both women recounted their stories as victims of sex trafficking interconnected with drug addictions and other issues and of having their lives turned around through Selah Freedom.
Some of the organization’s services for survivors include a safe home and rehabilitation as well as a personalized educational plan, job placement, trauma therapy, life skills, medical and legal assistance and holistic care.
Cole recounted how even after her trafficker was arrested, she was not yet ready to abandon drugs, although Selah Freedom continued to show up in her life, whether she was in prison or the hospital.
Triplett, who is now the volunteer advocate at the nonprofit, recounted how after her trafficker eventually shot her in her attempt to escape, she still feared for her life if she told anyone of her situation.
“They offered me help every time, and even when I turned them down, they never gave up,” Cole said.
"This means so much to me,” said Triplett. “Without having events like this, and people to offer support, I wouldn't have had the experience I did. I wouldn't have had all this healing and health.”
Francie Chapman’s comments echoed those of the survivors. She said while growing up, she was sexually abused by a family member, developing a cocaine addiction and entering two abusive and violent relationships.
“I fought to get out, but it took me a really long time, and I held people at length, and arm’s length, and I didn’t let anybody close,” she said. “But Selah is stepping in, and they’re earning these girls’ trust. They’re giving them a place where they can come in and be safe, which they’ve probably never felt their whole lives. The importance of what they’re doing is more than we could say in words.”
The organization also offers services including education for parents and youth on how to avoid being manipulated by a trafficker, support groups, case management, and referral services to current victims.
The Chapmans have also established a nonprofit organization, DOG (Developing an Overcoming Generation) Foundation, which provides emotional healing and services to victims of human trafficking. Duane Chapman described a team the couple have just assembled to chase down traffickers.
"I was bawling, all those guys behind us, there are thousands of them across the United States, and we're all going to work together," he said. "And we're going after — what do they call them? Traffickers. Well, they're not going to be called that after we get them."
Ian Swaby is the Sarasota neighbors writer for the Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands.