Former sex trafficking victim now helps others break free

Categories: Around the Diocese

By Deb Rudolph
For The Visitor

For 22 years, Joy Friedman was enslaved in prostitution that began when a boyfriend, who she believed loved her, sold her to thousands of men with the promise that “just one more time and we’ll have enough money to get out of this life.”


Joy Friedman

But it never stopped at “just one more time.” Over the years, she was raped, beaten and held against her will. She endured emotional, verbal and psychological abuse. Like others who are trafficked, she lost all self-worth. Getting high numbed the pain, and she became an addict.

Friedman wasn’t able to escape her situation until she found Breaking Free, a St. Paul-based organization dedicated to ending the crime of sex trafficking. Today, the 52-year-old mother and grandmother of four, is Breaking Free’s training and outreach director, working to raise awareness about the issue and helping other women with similar stories.

Friedman shared her story during a presentation April 18 at St. Francis Xavier Church in Sartell. More than 100 people attended, including members of about a dozen local faith communities. The event was sponsored by the St. Monica Christian Mothers and Social Concerns Committee of St. Francis Xavier Parish along with the Bishop Trobec Knights of Columbus group.

Worldwide problem

Sex trafficking is a global issue, but it isn’t just a problem in major metropolitan areas, Friedman said. It also can be found in places like St. Cloud, Sartell, Sauk Rapids and the Waite Park area.

Accurate statistics are difficult to compile because trafficking is often a hidden crime, but a 2014 report on human trafficking in Minnesota found that 74 percent of service providers responding to a survey on the issue reported to have served at least one victim of sex or labor trafficking.

Awareness is key to ending such crimes, but it will require cooperation by many people, organizations and government agencies, Friedman said.

Society must change the way it talks about women and the way it uses sex in advertising to sell everything from cars to hamburgers, she said. And it must change its acceptance of pornography, especially Internet pornography, which is not a victimless activity.

The average age of children viewing Internet pornography for the first time is between 8 and 11 years old, Friedman said. The Internet is where many children are receiving their sex education.

“Kids will experiment in the world around them,” she said. “We need to prepare them for the consequences.”

She added: “If we are walking with Christ, we need to ask, ‘Who did Jesus hang out with?’ He hung out with me, the one being prostituted and he offered compassion.” Today’s trafficking victims need the same help she received, and Friedman said she has dedicated her life to helping them find it.

The two-hour session also included comments from Tim Broda, investigating officer from the Sartell Police Department who serves on the Central Minnesota Task Force on Human Trafficking, a group of area law enforcement agencies working to eradicate this crime through education and undercover operations.

Also present was Rebecca Kotz, human trafficking services coordinator for the Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center in St. Cloud, an agency that offers support and care for anyone suffering the effects of sexual assault.

Kotz works with individuals as well as provides education to schools, civic organizations and churches. Her work includes training law enforcement and first responders in how to work with victims. She implored all present to work for an end to trafficking. “Do not leave here today unchanged,” she said. “Get involved!”

The presentation ended with prayer for an end to human trafficking: “We are chosen, we are called and we are committed to stop the demand and end human trafficking. We come as a people of hope. Amen.”

For more information to join the fight against sex trafficking or to reach out for help, contact Breaking Free at 651-289-8172 or or Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center at 1-800-237-5090 or

Deb Rudolph is pastoral associate at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Sartell.