Sur­viv­ing hu­man traf­fick­ing

Cher­ishedla help­ing women re­cover

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Front Page - By JULIE DRAKE

Val­ley Press Staff Writer

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 Lan­cast­er­based 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 twoyear 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 fast­paced 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 sur­vivor­run, anti­traf­fick­ing 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 five­tier model of hu­man needs. The needs range from phys­i­o­log­i­cal to safety, love and be­long­ing, es­teem and self­ac­tu­al­iza­tion.

By the time the pimps have worked their way up to self­ac­tu­al­iza­tion, 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 make­up 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 sur

vivors 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 part­time 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 reg­u­lar­priced 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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