Surviving human trafficking – Antelope Valley Press

LANCASTER — The Hollywood version of human trafficking depicts young girls visiting Europe who are kidnapped by the friendly, handsome young European man they met at the airport.

The reality is much different.

Kate Wedell, founder and executive director of CherishedLA, was a Southern girl from Georgia who moved to Los Angeles to pursue a dream in the music industry. She fell into the commercial sex industry instead. She became addicted to drugs to numb the pain of the lifestyle she lived. She was trafficked by a man she thought she could trust. She eventually ended up in the Sybil Brand Institute, the Los Angeles County jail for women, which closed in 1997.

Wedell escaped the industry after 10 years. She founded CherishedLA in 2010 to help other survivors.

CherishedLA is the Lancaster-based nonprofit organization that seeks to assist women survivors of human trafficking and the com­mer­cial sex industry. Cherished began an outreach and has grown to include a res­idential program and social en­ter­prise that offers support groups and therapy, outreach, employment, edu­cation, and recreational activities.

One-hundred percent of the women Wedell helps were sexually abused as children. There is a direct correlation between early childhood sexual abuse and prostitution, she said.

“When we’re talking about trafficking we’re talk­ing about girls in high school; we’re talking about girls at AVC; we’re talking about girls at the mall that people see every day,” Wedell said.

A seasoned groomer will know what he’s doing and how to do it well. He sells a girl on a dream, such as how she should be a model. CherishedLA deals with domestic human traf­ficking.

“That is what is hap­pen­ing here in the AV,” Wedell said.

Human trafficking is mod­ern day slavery. The goal for human traffickers/slave owners is to replace a person’s true identity with a new identify that will serve them. The victim ends up bonded with her abuser via trauma bon­ding. And that can hamper a victim’s desire to leave because of the emotional connection to the abuser.

CherishedLA has helped hundreds of girls.

“People want to look at the numbers as a true suc­cess story and it’s not about the numbers; it’s about seeing true change. These women have so much trau­ma and PTSD that it’s going to take a really long time,” Wedell said.

Women who have been in the commercial sex industry have PTSD rates similar to combat veterans. They also suffer higher rates of suicide, murder, violent assault, and rape.

CherishedLA’s two-year residency program is heav­ily supervised. Res­i­dents are not allowed use of a phone or the Internet while they are living at the house. That is in part to prevent the victims from falling back to their com­fort zone, such as con­tact­ing their abuser.

Wedell did not have a program liked Cher­ished­LA to help her when she left the industry. She got mar­ried right away. They moved to the Antelope Valley to get away from Hol­ly­wood, her contacts and the fast-paced life she lived.

“I didn’t have a support sys­tem. No one knew my story,” Wedell said.

She and her husband have been married for 24 years and have three daugh­ters.

To better serve the women of Cherished, Wed­ell pursued a credential as a lay trauma counselor from The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology. For eight years, Wedell was as an abortion and STD educator for Care Net Crisis Pregnancy Center. She also served as Outreach Leader for a survivor-run, anti-trafficking program Treasures in Los Angeles.

Part of CherishedLA’s train­ing includes the meth­ods pimps use to control and groom women based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs — a motivational the­ory in psychology that uses a five-tier model of human needs. The needs range from physiological to safety, love and be­long­ing, esteem and self-ac­tu­al­ization.

By the time the pimps have worked their way up to self-actualization, they have convinced their vic­tims that they are a bus­i­ness partner who will re­cruit other girls for them. The girls will believe there is more to the relationship than there really is.

“That’s what abuse is, it’s sprinkled with kind­ness so that you come back,” Wedell said.

Groomers will convince their victims that it is em­pow­ering. At Cher­ished­LA they do not tell women they have to leave the sex in­dus­try. They don’t have to because 89% of the women want to leave, but have nowhere else to go.

Wedell, who worked in strip clubs, will visit clubs and give gift bags with make-up and jewelry to the women working there. She shares her story. The women are invited to join Cher­ishedLA’s support group.

“I don’t try to tell women what they need to do with their lives,” Wedell said.

Sometimes,and it might take years, the women will seek assistance from CherishedLA.

CherishedLA supports its programs through do­na­tions and by selling the jewelry and bath and body products made by sur­vivors on its website, www.cherishedhighdesert.com

CherishedLA offers training twice a year. The next one should take place this spring. They are also looking for a part-time house mom and a driver. Volunteers are welcome too, but the training is required.

January is National Sla­very and Human Traf­fick­ing Awareness Month. On Thursday, National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, CherishedLA will conduct a fundraiser at Vince’s Pasta & Pizza, 2833 West Ave. L, Lancaster. Twenty percent of regular-priced meals will go to support CherishedLA.

CherishedLA also will con­duct a boxing event fund­rais­er at 4 p.m. Jan. 27 at the Training for Life USA, 44622 10th St. West. There is a $20 min­im­um donation to box. CherishedLA also will be sel­ling natural beauty products.

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