Plenary III: Social Transformations to End Exploitation and Trafficking for Sex (STREETS): Breaking Free

Teaching from the Outside In

Saturday, April 13, 2019, 1:45-3:00, Pyle Center, Alumni Lounge

Moderator: Terry Forliti, Executive Director of Breaking Free

Panelists: Quintina Sonnie, Laurie Rea, Judy Armstrong, and Damita Love

 Introduction by

Araceli Alonso, Co-Director, 4W-STREETS Project, UNESCO Chair on Gender, Wellbeing, and a Culture of Peace

Jean Geran, Co-Director, 4W-STREETS Project

This plenary panel discussion, sponsored by the 4W-STREETS Project (Social Transformation to End Exploitation and Trafficking for Sex), will highlight the art and experiences of survivors of prostitution and trafficking. The panelists and moderator are members of the St. Paul and Minneapolis-based non-profit and social justice organization, Breaking Free. Since its inception in 1996, Breaking Free has assisted over 200 women annually escape systems of prostitution and sexual exploitation through advocacy, direct services, housing, and education.

Collectively, the panelists have experienced over 100 years of exploitation. Most of us are women of color. We have been bought, sold and used with impunity by men who are financially, socially and racially privileged in relation to us. Sexual exploitation is the most pervasive example of inequality between men and women. This unequal power struggle is also strongly influenced by socio-cultural and historical factors, and involves elements of male control, power, domination, and degradation of women and girls. That is what prostitution is. For years we weren’t able to make eye contact with anybody. We were not allowed to speak until spoken to. We existed as commodities. Period. Our voices were taken, and if we tried to use them, we were often severely punished. Although we will never be completely healed from the trauma that we endured while in the life, we have become “thrivers” of a healthy, safe life that is exempt from sexual exploitation. We will be sharing messages through our panel discussion that will help you understand where our messages are coming from through our voices and art.

The panelists will also discuss a variety of issues related to “teaching,” including the experiences of the survivors as they produce art, voiced their survival and hope, and created a place at the table for themselves and other women like them. The urgent need for academia and professional women to be taught from those women on the outside will be discussed as well. This is an opportunity for women who are silenced by racism, poverty, and trauma to be teachers instead of being anonymous quotations in research.

***Please note that there is a Breaking Free art exhibit on the third floor of the Pyle Center. Today’s panelists and other survivors are displaying plaster masks that the women made on their faces and then painted them to symbolize their pasts and futures. Each display includes a statement about how prostitution and trafficking negatively impacts women and girls as a group, distorts gender relations, and hinders gender equity.

Terry Forliti, Executive Director of Breaking Free, brings innovative strides and momentum that collaboratively results in real change for those affected by sex-trafficking. In addition to being a survivor of “the life,” Terry focused on empowerment of the marginalized while obtaining her degree in Organizational Leadership in 2005. Terry is the Executive Director of Breaking Free and a member of the Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force. Terry was awarded the 2015 Lois M. Christensen Award for Women Who Impact by the Minnesota Women of Today. Terry has facilitated over 200 presentations on sex trafficking in the past few years including 2018 session at the MAN och Unizon #CSW62 United Nations on Sporting Events as Driving Forces behind Prostitution & Trafficking.

Founded in 1996 by Vednita Carter, Breaking Free is a social justice/social change non-profit. Every year, Breaking Free helps hundreds of women and girls escape systems of prostitution and sexual exploitation through direct services. More than an organization facing an issue, we actively and directly serve the people who have been impacted by trafficking and prostitution through advocacy, housing, education and immediate action. This includes addressing the demand side through Men Breaking Free.

Breaking Free forefronts a movement of freedom for victims of sex-trafficking, releasing them from a life of bondage and oppression into one of safety restoration and the ability to fly with wings of dignity, truth and strength. That kind of transformation comes by real-life action. It is a basic rescue to get her where she needs to be with careful approach and survivor understanding.

Breaking Free’s own diversity helps to intentionally provide additional support to serve women of color who are disproportionately represented in demographics of the trafficked population. To learn more and see our entire range of services visit: http://www.breakingfree.net/.