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LBK houses of worship raise awareness of sex trafficking

Rev. Julia Piermont, Jerry Fox, Stacy Efaw, Laurie Swink, Gabrielle Triplett, Kelly Bennett, Misty Laperriere and Sgt. Robert Morrison
Rev. Julia Piermont, Jerry Fox, Stacy Efaw, Laurie Swink, Gabrielle Triplett, Kelly Bennett, Misty Laperriere and Sgt. Robert Morrison
Photo by Petra Rivera
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The six houses of worship on Longboat Key and St. Armands Key hosted a discussion to spread awareness on the danger of sex trafficking. 

The discussion was held at 9 a.m on Feb. 24 at Christ Church of Longboat Key. It was organized by the chairman of Christ Church's missions committee, Jerry Fox. 

The houses of worship sponsoring the event included All Angels By The Sea Episcopal Church, Temple Beth Israel, Christ Church, Longboat Island Chapel, St. Armands Key Lutheran Church and St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church. They partnered with the Sarasota Police Department and Selah Freedom. 

Selah Freedom is an anti-human trafficking nonprofit organization that supports survivors of sex trafficking while raising awareness and advocating prevention.

About 150 people attended the program. The discussion started in prayer led by the Rev. Kenneth Blyth from St. Armands Key Lutheran Church. 

First, the program addressed the problem of sex trafficking in the area. Fox shared that Florida is the third worst state for trafficking in the nation. He also said that the Tampa Bay area down to Palmetto is tied with Miami as the area in the state with the most trafficking.

Sex trafficking survivor Kelly Bennett set the tone for the discussion with a poem she wrote about her trafficking experience when she was 18 years old. Bennett shared that writing poetry was her escape to express her feelings during that time.

Sgt. Robert Morrison with the Sarasota Police Department
Photo by Petra Rivera

Sgt. Robert Morrison, community action team supervisor for the Sarasota Police Department, followed Bennett with his experience in helping trafficking victims and what the police are doing to address the problem.

"Our officers are highly trained in what to look for in human trafficking in their daily interactions," said Morrison. "We know human trafficking is not a victimless crime. The victims are the ones who have been sold, so we want to target the buyers of the sex trafficking. We're trying to set up operations in that regard. Also, we prioritize having strong partnerships with Selah so that we can have a good debrief with the victims, having those civilians being able to come in and relate to them, getting them to open up a little bit more." 

Gabrielle Triplett shared her trafficking story, and how Selah Freedom saved her and helped her change her life. She is the awareness advocate for the organization.

"I'm proud to say that I'm a survivor of sex trafficking and a graduate of Selah Freedom's faith-based rehabilitative program," said Triplett. "Though I have escaped the world of sex trafficking, I still face challenges. But every day I am growing and healing because I have let God and Selah into my life. By my life being changed, it has also changed the lives of my children going forward and protected them from what happened to me."

Gabrielle Triplett, awareness advocate at Selah Freedom
Photo by Petra Rivera

The second part of the program discussed how Selah Freedom is responding and preventing the trafficking problem.

Executive Director Stacey Efaw and Co-founder and Director of Consulting Laurie Swink followed Triplett to cover Selah's program for trafficking survivors. Selah's five areas includes outreach for survivors on the streets and in jails, prevention by educating schools and community organizations, providing residential opportunities for survivors, awareness across the nation, and consulting for other organizations who want to start their own safe houses. 

Law Enforcement Liaison and Trainer Misty LaPerriere finished the talk by going over how to identify signs of trafficking, and how guests of the discussion could take action themselves. 

The Rev. Brock Patterson from Longboat Island Chapel closed the discussion with prayer.

"I have lived on the island for 10 years and I didn't know about the trafficking problem in the area until 2022," said Fox. "It is important for our community to be aware and each do our little part to prevent this horrifying problem affecting our community."



Petra Rivera

Petra Rivera is the Longboat community reporter. She holds a bachelor’s degree of journalism with an emphasis on reporting and writing from the University of Missouri. Previously, she was a food and drink writer for Vox magazine as well as a reporter for the Columbia Missourian.

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