Carissa Phelps tells tale of triumph



By Melanie Bailiff

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It’s a rags-to-riches story that seems to have stepped right out of Hollywood. Becoming a runaway at 12 years old, life on the streets led to drugs, sex and a pimp named Icey for one woman who has aspired to stay strong through life’s struggles.

“All the s— in our lives is fertilizer,” Carissa Phelps, an energetic speaker announced Tuesday night in Memorial Hall.

Phelps, now CEO of Runaway Girl Inc., attorney, crisis counselor, mentor, and advocate for runaway and homeless youth, shared her battle with human trafficking and encouraged students to get involved by first becoming aware of the issues.

Raevonna Mitchell, director of multicultural affairs for the Student Activities Board, brought Phelps to UK because “a lot of students and people in the community are not aware that these issues hit home. You hear about human trafficking abroad but never think about it being in your neighborhood.”

The talk began with a showing of “Carissa,” a 23-minute documentary that graphically portrayed Phelps’ experience with sex, life on the streets and smoking crack.

While the film was intense, it was also heartfelt and emotional, providing hope for those who have been in Phelps’ position.

“My mission is clear; I want to make it as easy to change the world as it is to sell Avon,” Phelps said.

Phelps began “Community Protocol for Response,” or C.P.R., training in California to train the community on how to deal with those who have been victims to human trafficking.

“You are a resource when you know C.P.R.,” Phelps’ PowerPoint read.

Phelps said that when she was taken to juvenile detention for a second time by a police officer (the first time being by her mother), it would have been helpful for that officer to have known she had spent the past week as a sex slave, acquired an STD and been abandoned by her mom. But she stated the officer had already labeled her and left her to be dealt with by the system.

At the age of 13, Phelps started her life over with the help of guidance counselor “Ron” and her math teacher, “Mrs. W.”

In juvenile detention, Phelps said she felt safe and began the road to a successful academic career.

Through the C.P.R. training and other projects, Phelps said communities should “stay connected and reach out. The next time I walk into UCLA I hope one of my home girls is with me.”

Phelps shared the view that the sex industry is often glamorized to college students through the media. Movies such as “Pretty Woman” and songs about “pimps and hoes” may make for Hollywood cash, but there is a deeper, darker world that many do not see.

A California native, Phelps told of the “Pimp Ball” where women are led in on leashes and forced to do things she said she could not discuss because she “would never be invited back to UK.”

All she could detail was that “it’s really bad.”

Phelps made it clear that pimps are real, and children as young as 12 or even younger are enduring abuse from them.

Phelps’ presentation also said reports by women in the sex “industry” have concluded that 62 percent of women are raped in prostitution, 73 percent are physically assaulted, 72 percent are homeless at the time and 92 percent reported they wanted to escape prostitution immediately.

Stockholm syndrome is the result of the dangerous bond formed between victims and pimps.

Phelps said the way to help someone with such a traumatic bond is forming a healthy relationship with that person. This is what C.P.R. training is for.

“There is a direct correlation between survival rates of victims with their number of healthy bonds,” Phelps said.

Kayla Setters of Florence, Ky., traveled to UK to hear Phelps speak.

“I like becoming more aware. I didn’t know these things happened everywhere. It made me more aware of my surroundings. It was worth the drive,” Setters said.