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KIMT NEWS 3 – Maybe you think it happens overseas, or think, there is no way sex trafficking is happening around my community. But it is, and in communities all over the nation. Vednita Carter is the Founder and Executive Director of a non-profit group out of St. Paul, called Breaking Free. She says “they don’t want to see it and then when they do see it they want to separate themselves from it they want to say that would never happen to anyone in my family, but prostitution is no respecter of person it doesn’t matter your color or your age or where you live or how much money you have it is about women and a body and somebody that is able to profit off that body.”
In this KIMT News 3 Covering Community Investigative report, we are meeting a survivor of the sex trafficking world and Vednita Carter, the woman who helped in her recovery, a survivor herself, and see what the two are doing to make a dent in this industry.
President Obama has called it “modern slavery” and he’s not the only one. Sex trafficking is someone who is forced or deceived into prostitution, and kept in the situation by using fear tactics.
Because of the nature of the crime, human trafficking numbers, including those related to sex trafficking, are difficult to get an exact count on. Often times victims do not come forward, in fear of being hurt or even killed by their pimps. But according to a 2011 FBI report, it is the fastest growing business when it comes to organized crime and the third largest criminal enterprise in the world. And everyday citizens can help in stopping it.
Vednita Carter and Joy Friedman know what it’s like to be prisoners in a bad situation, and what it means to break free. And these women are not afraid to tell their stories, ones that are difficult to hear.
Vednita tells us after high school, in the 70’s, she and her friend responded to an ad in the paper to be a dancer. They got the jobs, fully clothed, but eventually, the tables turned, and they found themselves dancing nude all over the country. Joy Friedman also has a powerful story to share. “I’ve been beaten with baseball bats, 2 by 4’s, metal pipes, gasoline thrown on me, I’ve been thrown out of moving vehicles, surrounded by 15 guys beaten and left for dead, dealt with drug addiction, raped repeatedly, drug down steps, stabbed with a knife, gun to the head, beaten with tools, after all of that, through all individuals I didn’t think there was a way out.”
Vednita and Joy have a strong bond, and a sisterhood that dates back more than a decade. But to understand what brought them together, you have to understand where they’ve been. Joy says she came from generational prostitution, and has family members involved in the lifestyle. “I saw the trips the clothes but no one ever talked about how it felt they made it look so easy, why get a job when you can do this.”
Joy eventually landed on the stage at strip clubs all over the United States and Canada. And for awhile, she didn’t think much about what she was doing, but her life eventually caught up with her and after years of physically and emotionally abusive pimps she found herself on the streets. Joy racked up quite an arrest record and eventually landed in a recovery program as part of her treatment.
Through a chance encounter, she met the woman who would eventually help save her life. “The first thing Vednita Carter said to me was I will never forget it it’s not my fault I didn’t cause this and she was talking to all of us girls but it was the first time someone had said that, and then she said I was worth saving.”
Joy had made her way to the Breaking Free program in St. Paul. It’s a nonprofit organization that serves to help women and children exploited and hurt by sex trafficking. She started it in 1996 in Rochester and has worked since then to help those impacted by this dark industry. “We take it beyond sexual abuse we take it to torture because when you have to service between five to ten men a day, domestic women say that, we consider that torture.”
Vednita has also spent just as much time working to change the perception of what sex trafficking really is and why it can be so difficult to leave. “You just don’t wake up and tell your pimp I’m leaving today I’m done with that it doesn’t happen like that, you lose your life for saying something like that.” She believes it’s time to start turning the focus from the women and start looking to the men who are paying for sex. Vednita says “men look at this as kind of a right of passage or something, and it really is not, it’s violence and it’s abusive towards women, we can’t act like they’re the same thing and so if we start hanging felonies on men, I’m telling you, it will end.”
But until then it’s all about letting the women know there is help at places like Breaking Free. Joy now works as an outreach manager at Breaking Free, to help other women and girls. Vednita also tells us that Breaking Free has seen an increase in need for their services. They are the only program in the nation that has permanent housing, 36 units, and they get calls from all over the country hoping there is room for those in need. And normally there are about 60 women on waiting lists for space to open.
On Wednesday, July 3rd at 10pm we’ll have part two of our special series to see what law enforcement and prosecutors are doing to help combat the issue in Iowa and Minnesota. We’ll also see what a group of nuns is doing to help raise awareness.
Here are links to more information about the issue of sex trafficking.