Thank you for being here today, Joy and Pam.
A quick word about the series: “Saving Bobbi” is about Bobbi Larson, 19, who as a teenager became the victim of sex traffickers. She and her family sought to tell her story to try to help other girls avoid the trauma she endured. It contains mature content.
Let's get started with the chat.
First, Joy, could you please tell us about Breaking Free? What does your organization do, and how did it come to be?
Breaking Free was established in 1996 by the Founder and Executive Director, Vednita Carter. We provide services to women and girls ranging form age 16 and up. Services range from educational support groups-- on the dynamics of prostitution/sex-trafficing, Life Skills, Job Skills and we also offer transitional and permanent housing. For our Clients we offer paid internships, speaker bureau, and alumni support groups, and leadership roles. To assist our clients within the legal system we offer legal advocacy. As a part of the bigger picture, we have public policy team, and we offer John's School for offenders, we have the Men's Project to allow men to assist with our mission. We also do Community Outreach.
How many girls and women do you serve and has that number increased over time?
This last fiscal year we worked with 510 women and girls. Numbers increase yearly.
Can Breaking Free keep up with the number of women seeking help or do you end up turning some away?
Unfortunately, we do have to turn women and girls away for housing due to lack of space. However, we never turn them away from our direct services.
Yes, her introduction into prostitution is one that is common to our organization.
What are the long-term physical and psychological effects of sex trafficking that you see in those who are seeking your help?
There are a number of long-term effects that are individually based such as: mental health, ranging form post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and disassociation disorder, clinical depression, and anxiety, just to name a few.
Bobbi was brave to share her story with the public. I have been in contact with her each day of the story running in the paper. I think she was a bit surprised by how many people read it and contacted her about it, but she has also been buoyed by the positive feedback. It makes her feel good to help others.
Joy, what are the forces that hold women in the sex trade?
Fear of Law Enforcement arresting them. Fear of families being harmed. Fear of having nowhere to go. Fear of not having people to trust, and lack of knowledge of rights. Fear of being beaten and/or killed.
How do you combat the view of some that this is “easy money”?
First and foremost there is nothing "Easy" about being sexually violated by strangers. What is being done to these women's and girls is permanent.
I can speak for Breaking Free, we have ongoing services that are life long that our clients can access throughout their whole recovery process.
Is prostitution ever voluntary?
Force fraud and coercion is never voluntary. Situation and circumstances are what lead women and girls into this vicious cycle. "We believe at Breaking Free that it is lack of choices."
Many times boys and men are introduced to the idea of degrading women and girls through pornography.
From the series:
How is child sex trafficking different from prostitution?
In the past, juveniles who were sold for sex were arrested and prosecuted as prostitutes. But in recent years, federal and some state laws have changed to define children as victims rather than criminals.
Federal law now defines child sex trafficking as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for a commercial sex act, if the person is under 18 years of age, regardless of whether any form of coercion is involved.
Minnesota law also defines 18 as the upper age limit of what is considered child sex trafficking and regards those being trafficked as victims of a crime rather than perpetrators.
Source: U.S. Department of Justice
What are your suggestions for cutting down the demand for buying sex?
Exposure!!! Don't you want to know who is buying human beings in your neighborhood?
What are your suggestions for how society can prevent sex trafficking in the first place?
Hold the buyers accountable. Once again, it is about supply and demand. Without no demand there would be no supply international and domestic. The buyers keep this cycle going.
Why are advocates changing the terminology from “prostitute” to “victim?”
Advocates want others to use the correct language. Prostitute is considered a derogatory thing-- an object. At Breaking Free we use "Prostituted Women." Ex. "She is being prostituted", "she is in prostitution."
I want to add, the word victim/survivor applies to all persons that have been sexually exploited.
Since 1999 John School has been in effect in Ramsey County. Since then, Breaking Free has had over 1,000 guys come through our classes. Through law enforcement's tracking, we can proudly say there has been a 1% recidivism rate.
Young men and boys are involved in prostitution, too. Where can they go for help?
The truth is, unfortunately, we are not aware of services that work with young boys and men specifically who are victims of sexual of sexual exploitation in Minnesota.
What's the first step to getting out of sex trafficking?
The first step, is finding the STRENGTH. There are a lot of girls who want to, but do not have the strength/support. Telling someone is harder than people understand. There is a lot of shame, guilt, and embarrassment in admitting you are trapped in prostitution/sex-trafficing.
OK, we have time for a few more questions.
Once victims/survivors find the strength, how do they contact you?
Breaking Free would like to let people know that if you are in need of help or want more information on what to do, we are here to assist in any way we can. WWW.BREAKINGFREE.NET
For those who would like to call in our phone number is 651-645-6557 and you will directed to the appropriate staff.
Walking outside everyday you run a risk of being struck by a car or lightning-- this is no less. Doing what is right is what our organization is about.
Get involved. Our proactive website www.breakingfree.net is very user friendly and can assist with volunteer inquiries, and other things you can do to show your support to survivors.
Well, it's time to wrap up. Joy, do you have any parting thoughts?
We just want to let people know this is in your backyard, it's been in your backyard-- you're just now catching up. Help us, help you understand.