The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Southern cyclists raise funds to stop trafficking

 


Eleven strangers have embarked on an adventure to travel the west coast from Seattle to San Diego for a common cause--to raise funds for a refuge in Texas to help victims of sex trafficking and to bring awareness to a problem that is quietly pervasive even in the United States.

“It started last year with three girls,” Isabel Mayne, a senior at the University of Texas said. “Two went to UT and the other went to the University of Arkansas. They were all just friends who got together and started talking about doing something big to advocate for victims for sex trafficking.

This group is picking up where the original three left off. The 11 young women come from Texas, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. The youngest will be a freshman in college in the fall, and the oldest recently graduated from college.

“All the money we raise will go to a healing facility that’s going to be in Austin, Texas,” Emma Orlando, a junior from the University of Arkansas said. “It’s a long term healing facility for girls ages 11-19. It will have school, therapy, art therapy, equine therapy and provide health care. Currently in Texas there are only 24 long term beds. This will have 48 beds so we will triple the number. It opens August 1, the day after our ride ends. It’s called The Refuge for Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking. That’s where all of our money is going. Our goal is to raise $250,000.”

So far, they have raised $108,000.

None of them are cyclists, but about six months ago, they began training and raising money. They will be traveling 40-50 miles a day for a total of 1,700 miles over a period of six weeks to San Diego. They will be traveling mostly down 101.

They’ve also been learning a lot about sex trafficking, and learning that a lot of people don’t even know it exists.

In Texas, it was estimated that 7-8,000 girls were affected by sex trafficking. That was before the study. According to the study, it was more like 79,000 girls. Just in Texas.

Those numbers can be translated to any state, one girl said.

“I think that’s why it’s possible for this crime to exist in America and grow so rapidly. So many of us don’t even know. Normal people live their lives and don’t realize that slavery still exists. It has to be talked about,” Madilyn Warner, a freshman at the University of Alabama said.

“I think it is so grossly underestimated how often it’s happening,” Gabi Siewczynski a University of Texas senior said. “We were at a UPS store next to a foot massage place in Seattle. There were a lot of signs of sex trafficking. Windows blocked out, only men coming in and out. It’s everywhere. It’s a massage place that’s open until 10 p.m.”

Girls are being victimized and then when the police step in, are treated like criminals. This group of girls want to help end the cycle, so that these victims can get treatment and not return to the only life they may have known. A life they never chose.

To follow the cyclists, read more about their mission, or to donate to their cause, check out their website, http://www.pedalthepacific.com.

The group was in Cathlamet thanks to Puget Island residents Steve and Kim Sharp who participate in warmshowers.org, an online organization that provides a connection for cyclists and potential hosts.

“It allows people to host traveling cyclists and cyclists to look at a map and see where hosts live,” Kim said. “You can request to stay with someone. It’s safe and well done, totally volunteer and run by donations. And it’s worldwide. We’ve been doing it since 2009.”

“We have had lots of people, people from all over the world,” Steve said. “We had a couple with a baby who started from their home in Switzerland and were riding east. They were riding all around the world.”

According to Kim, they’ve hosted cyclists from the Basque Provinces in Spain, Austria, New Zealand, Germany, and many people from the US as well.

“They can camp in your backyard and use your bathroom, but we always feed and pamper them,” Steve said. “We have found lifelong friends who have stayed with us. We’ve actually stayed with other cyclists when we travel. We met up with a cyclist from Kent State, Ohio. We met up with him in Spokane and rode across Idaho into Montana, just because we met him at our house.”

“Most people use the maps from Adventure Cycling,” Kim said. “Their Pacific coast route goes right through Cathlamet, because people take the ferry to Highway 30 and continue on to Astoria and Seaside. We’ve been hosting all these years, and a lot of times we’re not home or we’re not available, so we’re hoping we can spread the word and get more people interested in opening up their homes.”

Elochoman Valley residents Kalani and April Silva were hosting the group of 11 on Friday night. This was the first time they had done it, and it wasn’t likely to be the last.

“We’ve never had a bad experience,” Steve said. “We’ve had more fantastic experiences. We feel like we’re getting the benefit out of hosting.”

 

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