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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