By Holly Austin Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Washington Times Communities
ST. PAUL, MN, July 13, 2013 – Breaking Free, Inc. is a non-profit organization serving women and girls involved in systems of abuse and exploitation / sex trafficking. Breaking Free was established in October 1996 by Founder and Executive Director, Vednita Carter. With headquarters in Saint Paul, MN, Breaking Free also has satellite offices in Minneapolis and Rochester, MN. In this interview, Breaking Free will share their mission, vision, and services; and they will share an opportunity in which YOU can help them open a newly-renovated home in St. Paul.
Holly Smith: What is the mission of Breaking Free?
Breaking Free: The mission of Breaking Free is to educate and provide services to women / girls who have been victims of commerical sexual exploitation / sex trafficking and need assistance with escaping violence in their lives. While based in African American culture, Breaking Free is committed to working with diverse populations of sexually exploited women and girls. Over the last 17 years, Breaking Free has served more than 5,500 clients and reached over 22,000 individuals via street outreach while systematically growing its programming to embrace a full continuum of care. The primary target population is females in the age range of 16 to 59 years, who have been exploited sexually for commercial purposes. They are predominantly African American and women of color (60%); and of low socioeconomic status, (most of them are single parents) with poor mental health, and chemical abuse issues.
Holly Smith: If faith-based, please tell us how faith has played a role in your organization?
Breaking Free: Breaking Free is not a faith-based non-profit, but our founder and staff are all Christians. Because of the condition that many of our clients are in when they enter our programs, our philosophy is to show them the love of Christ though our actions and unconditional acceptance and love despite anything they have been through. Rather than force them to convert to receive housing and services, we believe that we need to show them by example, lead them to Christ through our actions, and provide access to bible study and spiritual discipleship through our partnerships with our faith-based partners and volunteers. Then, we allow them to make their own choice if and when they are ready to accept Christ as their savior. We don’t tally conversions, but we know that each of our clients has the opportunity to hear the salvation message, and they are encouraged to learn more about being a disciple of Christ and growing in their relationship with Him.
Holly Smith: Who are your board members and / or co-founders?
Breaking Free: Breaking Free, Inc. has a Governing Board of five diverse directors from varying professional backgrounds and areas of expertise. Breaking Free’s staff consists of fourteen full-time employees, seven part-time support staff, and many dedicated interns and volunteers. The majority of the staff is also composed of survivors of sex trafficking, which is important as survivors bring an element of understanding that others cannot. Each survivor has a unique perspective and ability to relate with the women and girls whom we serve. Many (25+) volunteers actively contribute to services at Breaking Free, each providing 10-20 hours of service per month.
Holly Smith: Can you tell us more about your services?
Breaking Free: We serve females 16 and up and their children in all of our programs. Breaking Free strives to empower women and girls to choose healthy, self-sufficient lifestyles. Our fundamental goals include strategies that focus on intervention, prevention, and education to ensure safe stable housing and family functioning, while operating in a culturally-appropriate and gender-specific context, with a secondary goal of decreasing the demand for commercial sex. Our services are as follows:
- Provide education, crisis intervention, and advocacy to sex trafficked women and girls.
- Decrease their exposure to and involvement in systems of violence.
- Connect families with community resources to maintain stability and family functioning.
- Provide and/ or coordinate safe stable housing for women / youth and their children.
- Provide opportunities for education and life skills to enable them to move out of poverty and become self-sustaining and to improve the parenting skills of mothers.
- Operate within a culturally-appropriate age and gender-specific context.
- Educate the community about the effects of commercial sexual exploitation on women and girls and the negative effects on the community.
- Bring change to public policy regarding the treatment of victims and the prosecution of pimps and “johns” while working to educate men in an effort to decrease the demand for sexual sevices.
These goals have a direct impact on individuals, families, and the community. By providing survivors with the tools necessary to complete and improve their education and employability, Breaking Free is also helping to prevent the exploitation of the next generation, the children of the victims. Sex trafficking is a cyclical system of poverty, drug addiction, rape, abuse of power, and degradation. This cycle will continue to be passed down from one generation to the next unless intervention occurs and women have the resources and opportunities to build a new life for themselves and their children.
Holly Smith: How can the public help you?
Breaking Free: In the past year, Breaking Free has experienced a significant increase in the number of exploited women, girls, and children seeking assistance and services from our program. Currently, we are serving an average of 100 individuals and families each week from our St. Paul drop-in center and administrative offices. While we are doing our best to keep up with the need, we are literally bursting at the seams with survivors and their children sitting outside, in our garage, and packed into our tiny conference room to participate in our weekly programs. Each week 20-30 children accompany their mothers to group and we need a safe place to provide care for them as well.
Breaking Free has just been presented with an opportunity to purchase a newly-renovated home just two doors down from our St. Paul location! This is a rare opportunity and a huge blessing as we struggle to figure out what will happen to these families in the winter when we literally have no room for them indoors.
We have secured over 75% of the funding, but we still need to raise the remaining $40,000 in the next TWO WEEKS. We ask the public to please consider donating to this cause, and to share this opportunity with others.
To learn more about Breaking Free and to donate to this cause, please visit www.BreakingFree.net.