A fight against sex trafficking in Southwest Florida joins forces with a locally produced film effort led by Dylan McDermott. At a special event Saturday entitled “Sugar Meets Selah,” supporters of Selah Freedom came together with the makers of the upcoming Semkhor web series Sugar to raise awareness of both efforts, but all involved said this was just the beginning of an important partnership.
McDermott conceived of the Sugar series before learning of Selah’s work in the field. The narrative series will follow a girl who leaves home and becomes lured into an underworld of crime. He has been working on the project with Semkhor producer David Shapiro and worked with students at Ringling College of Art and Design to bring the content together. This weekend, he sat with Ringling students before the Selah event to discuss footage. After connecting with Selah, McDermott said he felt more confident than ever that this was the right place to shoot Sugar.
“Sarasota is a funny mix of light and dark,” McDermott said. “At first glance, it looks like a very wealthy community, a beach community. It’s this little Utopia here. But all of the sudden if you scratch a little deeper, you see a darker element involved.” This weekend, officials showed McDermott some of that element—massage parlors, parks with known trafficking activity, an underbelly kept well hidden beyond the popular resort town. Florida ranks third in the nation in terms of human trafficking, experts estimate, but that’s a ranking state leaders rarely boast about.
But leaders at Selah Freedom say the problem is finally getting some deserved attention. Law enforcement officials working with the organization have learned better how to identify predators seeking out runaway girls, a huge percentage of whom get approached by pimps within 48 hours of leaving home, according to Selah Freedom Founding President Elizabeth Fisher. “We have been working really hard on the streets doing what we do, trying to save girls,” she said. And as she worked to publicize the issue, she connected with Ringling College and with Shapiro at Semkhor, who in turn connected Selah Freedom with McDermott.
When Sugar is completed and released on the web, it will be supplemented with Selah content that tells the real-world story of sex trafficking. The effort should help raise financial resources and awareness for Selah along the way while informing an audience of a problem too often unnoticed by the general population.