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Sex trafficking survivor starting new shelter

Posted at 3:16 PM, Mar 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-01 15:16:37-05
Edie Rhea has lived through the unimaginable. Her mother's boyfriend sold her for sex every day since the age of ten, until she escaped at nearly 17.
 
"I tried to portray that normal lifestyle, like a normal kid, but  inside, I was dying," she said.
 
She's spent most of her adult life advocating for survivors through Healing Root Ministries, where she's found many victims have been brainwashed by their traffickers.
 
 "They feel like they're loved and they're adored and they're not," Rhea said.
 
This comes as Pinellas County is now enforcing an ordinance starting March 1, requiring all adult entertainment businesses, massage or bodywork parlors or any business or nail salons to display public awareness signs alerting employees to the signs of human trafficking.
 
It includes the hotline number, 1-888-373-7888, workers can call if they feel they may be a victim. Every case is investigated, Rhea said.
 
While Florida is third in the nation for human trafficking cases, Rhea says there are only about a dozen beds available for survivors who escape.
 
Rhea supports the public awareness signs and says she believes it will lead to more cases being reported. However, she is concerned that because there are not enough beds, there may be nowhere for survivors to go. She is concerned many of them may wind up in jail because there are few options.
 
But now, Rhea is taking action by raising money and working countless hours to open her own women's survivor shelter in Pasco or Hillsborough County.
 
"Just with seeing a little bit of hope and trusting they can fly," Rhea said.
 
She's drafting plans that will house up to 10 girls. Rhea needs a home with several bedrooms and hopefully a couple of acres so the girls can walk freely. They'll have therapy, job counseling, life coaching and more.
 
"It's healing when you talk about it," she said. "But also, it gives other ladies hope."
 
As she nears her goal, she's hoping to open her shelter within the next 8 months. Rhea said it can't start soon enough because the needs of these survivors simply can't wait.
 
There is gala planned that will raise money to build the shelter on Saturday, March 5, 2016 in the ballroom of the MOSI Museum. Purchase tickets here.