Vednita Carter wants this to be perfectly clear: human beings are not for sale. It’s a battle, she says, one where she is on the front lines.
Carter used to be a prostitute. But don’t think of a woman wearing outrageous outfits, standing on a street corner. No, think sex trafficking.
At 18, she was hoping to make money for college when she responded to an advertisement for “dancers.” At first, she danced fully clothed, but her bosses and then-boyfriend soon pressured her into stripping and, eventually, prostitution.
Carter eventually left the streets, with the help of a friend. She realized, though, that many women in the same situation had no one to help, so she created Breaking Free, a non-profit that helps sex trafficking victims over the age of 16 get off the streets and re-build their lives. Breaking Free provides rehab services for those with addictions, help with education and job skills, and an intensive 14-week course called “Sisters of Survival.”
But St. Paul, Minn.-based Breaking Free also works with law enforcement to help with the “demand” side of this burgeoning underground economy. Working with the Ramsey County District Court, Breaking Free helps with a restorative justice program, The Offenders Prostitution Program.
The Offenders Prostitution Program, more commonly referred to as the “John School,” was a response to an on-going community concern in the Frogtown and Aurora/St. Anthony neighborhoods, home to the highest incidences of prostitution and sex-trafficking within the city of Saint Paul. Previous approaches to curbing the problem involved putting prostituted women and girls in jail and requiring customers, or “Johns,” to pay a fine. This approach did nothing to deter the activity and proved extremely costly to the county. Funds were being expended to keep women in jail without addressing their deep-seated issues of abuse, addiction, and enslavement. At the same time, the sanctions imposed upon the “Johns,” typically residents of wealthier, middle-class communities, proved to be an inadequate consequence and did not address recurrent patterns of behavior.
Under a grant from the National Institute of Justice, Breaking Free became one of six programs in the country that was awarded funding for the purpose of forming a committee of community leaders and key stakeholders to address these issues.
According to Breaking Free, only 2% of those who complete the “John School” re-offend.
The average age of entry into prostitution is about 12-14 years old. For many of the women Carter deals with, the “life” of sex trafficking and abuse is all they’ve ever known. It is a world of secrets and shame, one that Carter wants to end.
The Acton Institute would like to help end this problem as well. We are pleased to present, “Hidden No More: Exposing Human Trafficking in West Michigan.” This free panel discussion will be held Friday, March 28 from 8:30-1o a.m. at the Acton Building, 98 E. Fulton, Grand Rapids, MI. Please click on the link for registration details.