Human trafficking survivors able to recharge and reconnect at inaugural retreat

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PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — A human trafficking survivor retreat to help people connect and recharge was held for the first time in Pensacola over the weekend.

It’s a nationwide issue happening in our own backyard — human trafficking. Human trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by improper means for an improper purpose including forced labor or sexual exploitation.

This weekend, local survivors were able to take a step back and reconnect at the inaugural “Rest, Relax, Recharge” Retreat in Pensacola. The three-day retreat was exclusively for human trafficking survivor leaders, those working hard in their communities after their trauma to advocate and create a unique healing environment.

Leading the efforts to host the retreat were Carissa Phelps, the founder of Runaway Girl, Inc., an attorney with Levin Papantonio & Rafferty’s Human Trafficking Department and Alicia Tappan, the program director who leads training and operations for The Secret Place — a Pensacola-based non-profit advocacy organization dedicated to providing a safe space for female child and young adult survivors of commercial sexual exploitation in Northwest Florida. Phelps describes the weekend as “life-changing and transforming for everybody who participated.”

Being completely survivor-led, this retreat was focused on what they felt it should be, not a vision from an outside source. One of the participating survivors

“We talked for hours the other night just talking about our dreams and our visions to make the world a better place, to improve the conditions for survivors across the country… to create sustainable living because it’s one thing to survive and come out of something so horrific, it’s another thing to thrive,” Angie Conn said.

These survivors came from all corners of the country — West Virginia, California, Washington — to be able to connect with those who are also survivors and are doing similar work in their own communities.

“It was the best, meeting all of the women who are from around the world and all of a sudden you’re not alone and they’re here for the same reasons. And I think that was the best for me was seeing everyone at the table saying I am struggling with this too with my agency,” Tappan said.

Each woman walking away with yellow roses, yellow signifying friendship. One of the many things stolen from a victim in a trafficking situation, but also, something these women have, to take away from this retreat. 

“It’s part of what made us who we are, but it’s not who we are it’s what propels us to make spaces and places for others to thrive and find out who they are and really take off in that,” Conn said.

To learn more about supporting this retreat, email Survivor.Retreat@gmail.com. To donate to local Pensacola-based organizations visit The Secret Place or Magdalene’s.

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