VISTA — A group of concerned citizens took a step toward eliminating human trafficking during the 12th annual Human Trafficking Awareness Walk. The one-mile walk, which started in downtown Vista on Jan. 20, helped spread this message with more than 150 participants.
Hosting the event was Soroptimist International of Vista and North County Inland, which also champions its North San Diego County Anti-Human Trafficking Collaborative.
According to Kaye Van Nevel, who leads the collaborative, this year attracted more walkers than ever. Van Nevel said the event raised the consciousness about the issues of sex trafficking, specifically in North County.
“I think that awareness is improving, and beyond awareness people are interested in becoming involved in helping address these crimes by joining organizations already in place, offering help to victims and being mentors,” she said.
Van Nevel pointed out that there are always a few surprised faces in a group who still believe that trafficking comes from other countries into the United States.
“It’s important to impress on them that it’s our youth for the most part who are in danger and who make up the 72 percent of the victims of sex trafficking in the country,” she said.
Two guest speakers took part in the day. Retired FBI agent Masayo Halpin, from Portland, Oregon, talked about her experiences particularly with the Innocence Lost Task Force and the Human Trafficking Task Force in Portland. The FBI and law enforcement agencies were part of the task force.
Another speaker was Jaimee Johnson, a peer counselor for Project Life North County Lifeline. Johnson is also a founder of the nonprofit Sisters of the Streets, based in San Diego County.
SOS is a nonprofit championed by survivors who offer help and hope to those who have been victims of human trafficking. Johnson is also a survivor.
Informational tables were also on hand by organizations including Alabaster Jar/Grace House, Operation Hope, North County Lifeline (Project Life), Soroptimist International Vista and North County Inland, Friends of the Park/Church of Christ and Muslims Against Trafficking.
The tables offered services and educational information to the public. Attendees also learned about advocacy to end human trafficking as well as any legislation related to the topic which impacts so many lives.
For more information on Soroptimist International of Vista and North County Inland and its North San Diego County Anti-Human Trafficking Collaborative, visit www.soroptimistvista.org.