Vednita Carter wouldn’t call herself a hero despite being given the title by cable network CNN last week. She prefers “SHEro.”
Carter, 60, founder of the St. Paul nonprofit Breaking Free, was recently honored as a 2014 CNN Hero for her commitment to helping more than 6,000 women and girls escape “the life” of sex trafficking.
“Prostitution — it leaves such a stigma on women,” Carter said in an interview Thursday. She added later, “People are really being able to realize … that women are victims of this.”
Breaking Free, which offers counseling and support for trafficking survivors, also provides transitional housing and is the only permanent supportive housing program for sex trafficking survivors in the country.
In a report recently commissioned by the League of Women Voters of Minneapolis, sex trafficking, especially trafficking of children, is highlighted as an ongoing problem that affects Minnesotans.
“Sex trafficking is a social justice issue,” according to the report. “Prostitution and sex trafficking are strongly correlated with economics.”
Carter started Breaking Free in 1996, decades after she went through her own story of survival. When she was 18 and had been accepted to college, Carter and a friend, hoping to help cover school costs, responded to an advertisement looking for “dancers.” They started off dancing fully clothed, but the work eventually turned to stripping and then to prostitution, Carter said. After about a year, Carter contacted a friend and started to turn her life around.
“I nominated Vednita because I wanted the whole world to know about what a hero she is,” said Jennifer Gaines, one of several sex trafficking survivors who helps staff Breaking Free. “She has helped countless women, including me, to transform our lives.”
Breaking Free is trying to expand its housing by raising money to purchase a building for girls and women ages 16 to 22. It is also looking at leasing a building to add more permanent housing for older women.
To find out how to help or learn more, visit www.breakingfree.net.