By Roel Godinez
Saturday, January 12th, was the Thirteenth Annual Human Trafficking Awareness Walk in Vista. Registration was open from 12:30 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. in the Wave Waterpark Parking lot where participants lined up, many carrying umbrellas to ward off the chilly sprinkles. Along with several registration booths, there were also non profit organization booths dispensing information about human trafficking. Donations were being accepted. Event staff encouraged participants to donate $10, all of which go to victims of human trafficking and their non profit supporters.
The yearly Human Trafficking Awareness Walk is organized by the Vista’s Soroptimist club. Long time member Kaye Van Nevel addressed the crowd, explaining that “Soroptimist International is an organization for women. It’s name is loosely translated to ‘best for women’. Our mission is to support women’s rights and the status of women. Human trafficking, particularly that for commercial sexual exploitation of children, is of huge interest to me and has been for 15 years with the support of my club. These are all horrible crimes, as you can imagine. Did you know that between 72 and 80 percent of our victims of human trafficking are from the United States? Not often from across the border, which has been a false thought.”
About 30 of the 50 Vista Soroptimists were present at the event and were joined by a few members from the San Marcos and Escondido Chapters. Each is incredibly proud of their work for their community and are quick to inform others of the issues they find most pressing. This walk allows them to gather both attention and funds to continue their work.
Just before the walk began, Kaye Van Nevel introduced Jaimee Johnson, a member of ‘Sisters of the Street’ and a survivor of human trafficking. She gave a short quick address and proceeded to present a spoken word poem that displayed her emotions toward her own life story.
“I never needed a handout
Or someone to try to be my savior
I never needed the negativity
Or someone telling me everything I did wasn’t in God’s favor
I never needed to be judged
Or cast away because I slipped up
I never needed to go from a pimp
To some program trying to control me…
What I needed was empowerment
Someone to believe in my potential
What I needed was to feel worthy
I needed freedom to make my own mistakes
And learn at my own pace”.
Following the emotionally packed poem, the Vista Princesses assembled atop a short flight of stairs while bearing a long banner which read “Soroptimist”. With that, the walk began.
The parade followed Vista VIllage Drive until it met Civic Center Drive at Vista Magnet Middle School where the path snaked back to the Wave Water Park. There were roughly 200 participants that joined in the march, many of which carried signs that said “Honk to stop STOP human trafficking”. Much of the passing traffic honked generously, prompting excitement within the ranks of the marchers. The mile long walk was invigorating and rather pleasant. As luck would have it, the entire parade received sunshine, despite how gray the morning had been. After about forty minutes, the walkers returned to the Wave Parking lot with a strong sense of communal pride. Before the closing of the event, there were two more guest speakers.
We’re about collaboration,” said Assly Sayyar, president of the Vista Soroptimist Club, “our organization is all about working with other nonprofits, the government, police and law enforcement, and faith based organizations. There are many groups working on this issue and the more we work together the more we can pull our resources. Part of today is also developing those collaborative relationships.”
The first speaker was San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan who has committed a large portion of her law enforcement career to fighting sexual exploitation and human trafficking. She went into depth on how children and teens can become targets of human traffickers and how they are caught up in the horrendous system. She gave solid advice on how to protect youths and prevent them from ever being tricked into trusting someone they should not.
The second speaker was Police/Fire Commissioner and Pastor, Joseph Travers. Travers is the Founder of Saved in America, a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to tracking down and saving kidnapped girls. Travers described the tragic story of Brittanee Drexel, a 16 year old girl from New York who was killed by a gang of Pimps in South Carolina, which inspired him to organize Saved in America.
Travers was sure to include that “The Saved in America team model consists of three pillars; 1. We never charge parents/ guardians to find their children. 2. We do this voluntarily, refusing pay. 3. We only use former Special Operators and retired or current Police Detectives who become Licensed and Insured Private Investigators.”
Once the speakers had concluded their messages, the crowd began to disperse. A feeling of hope for the victims overriding the bleak nature of human trafficking.