Edie Rhea said she was just 10, when her mother’s boyfriend began sexually abusing her and selling her to strangers for sex.
Others may have never suspected what was going on, because Rhea said she lived in a four-bedroom, two-bath house in a nice neighborhood. She also went to school, like other kids, she said.
Even though there were opportunities to tell someone else, Rhea said she was too frightened, because the man who was trafficking her had threatened to kill her.
And, she believed he would.
She finally escaped the situation when she was 17, and her mom kicked the boyfriend out of the house, but Rhea was kicked out, too.
She then found a boyfriend, got pregnant and the couple married, she said.
But, the problems didn’t end there.
“The first 10 years of our marriage was bad news,” she said, noting she was using drugs and alcohol, and was involved in marital affairs.
At one point, she was hooked on prescription drugs, she said. And, she attempted suicide several times.
Rhea said her husband wanted a divorce after 10 years of marriage, but gave her another chance.
One of her turning points came when her husband’s mother invited them to church.
“We accepted the Lord. The pastor told me, ‘You know, Edie, you really need to seek some counseling,’” she said.
She began counseling sessions to work on guilt, shame and trust issues, she said.
“The big doozy was when she (the counselor) told me we were going to start working on forgiveness. I told her, ‘I’ll never do that. I’m not going to do that.’’’
The counselor told her: “You need to learn to forgive yourself before you can forgive others,” Rhea said.
“That was a huge, huge, piece,” she said.
Six years ago, the man who had trafficked Rhea was in the hospital and asked to see her, she said.
She said she did go to see him, and told him she had forgiven him.
She also shared the gospel with him, she said.
“He accepted the Lord, and a couple of weeks later, he passed away,” Rhea said.
Four years ago, she launched Healing Root Ministry, a survivor-founded, survivor-run organization aimed at preventing human trafficking and advocating for survivors.
“We originally started, just bringing awareness and prevention,” she said.
But, then she felt called to share her story, and to open a home for rescued women.
The ministry aims to build a house, to provide a transitional home for rescued women.
The house, which will be called The Gate, is intended to serve women from Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties, said Rhea, who is a member of First Baptist Church of Lutz, where the ministry is based.
“It’s an 18-month program, for women 18 and older. Once they come in, they can pursue their G.E.D. (General Educational Development exam), life skills, job skills,” she said.
The idea is to help these women to reclaim their lives, Rhea said.
“We want restoration. We want them to see that there is hope and that we believe in them,” Rhea said.
Human trafficking is a real problem, that is often unseen, she said.
People have the false notion that the problem is limited to other countries, she said.
They can’t imagine the problem happening to their daughter, or to the daughter of someone they know, she added.
They have no idea that Florida ranks third in the nation for human trafficking, and that Tampa ranks No. 1 in Florida, she added.
Rhea wants to change those statistics.
She also wants the ministry she leads to live up to the words that are written on her business card: “Empowering Women to Live the Lives that God Chose for Them.”
If you would like to help the ministry, or would like more information about it, call Rhea at (813) 458-5970, or visit HealingRootMinistry.com.
2016 Somebody’s Daughter fundraiser
When: March 5 from 6:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Where: Museum of Science & Industry, 4801 E. Fowler Ave., Tampa
What: A gala including a dinner, dancing, exhibits at MOSI, a 50/50, and a silent auction featuring sports memorabilia, vacation packages and other items. Christopher Gregory, of Homeland Security, will be the keynote speaker.
Why: The event will raise money for Healing Root Ministry, a nonprofit organization seeking to raise money to build a transition house for women rescued from human trafficking.
For more information, or to register, go to HealingRootMinistry.com.
To report a case or suspected case of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at (888) 373-7888.
To find out more about human trafficking, visit TraffickingResourceCenter.org.
Published February 24, 2016