The Soroptimist International of Vista & North County Inland is gearing up for its 13th annual Human Trafficking Awareness Walk in downtown Vista on Jan. 12 at the Wave Water Park.
The group is both a major sponsor as well as host for the yearly event.
It’s anticipated that more than 100 walkers will take part in the day, which begins at 12:30 p.m. The walk will take place rain or shine, raising awareness on an important issue.
“The purpose of this event is to continue to educate and raise awareness about trafficking in North San Diego County, specifically, the commercial sexual exploitation of men, women, and children,” said Kaye Van Nevel, a member of Soroptimist International of Vista and committee chair of the Prevention of Violence Against Women/Human Trafficking.
According to Van Nevel, San Diego is the 13th largest city in the U.S infected by human trafficking. She notes that North County remains vulnerable.
“Not long ago, local gangs joined forces and placed victims in motels on the 78 Corridor between Oceanside and Escondido. Law enforcement had infiltrated them, and made multiple arrests,” she said. “Stings like this are continually planned and performed. Middle and high schools are now including human trafficking information in health curriculum.”
Van Nevel said 80 percent of human trafficking victims are citizens of the U.S.
“The age of recruitment ranges between 12 and 14 years old, mostly girls. In 2016, $800 million was the estimated ‘take’ for the criminals,” she said.
Three guest speakers will be on hand for the day including San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan, Jaimee Johnson, the founder of Sisters of the Streets, and Joseph Travers of Saved in America.
Information tables from North County Lifeline’s Project Life, Alabaster Jar Project, Muslims Against Trafficking, Operation Hope, and Pat Spencer who authored, “Story of a Stolen Girl,” will be set up, among others.
The 1-mile walk will begin with a round trip from The Wave Waterpark to Civic Center Drive.
The event is free, with a requested donation of $10.
“The money will go directly to Soroptimist International Vista North County Inland’s service fund for future anti-human trafficking events,” Van Nevel said.
Van Nevel also gave thanks to other organizations such as the city of Vista, which helps promote the annual Human Trafficking Awareness Walk with an informative banner above Vista Village Drive.
“Also, The United Methodist Church of Vista freely opens their Fellowship Hall for bi-monthly meetings of the North County Anti-Human Trafficking Collaborative meetings, supported by SIVNCI,” she said.
Van Nevel said those who attend the meetings are actively involved in the ongoing fight against trafficking. Service providers also participate in the meetings, such as North County Lifeline’s Project Life, Alabaster Jar Project’s Hope House, Coordinator of Student Support Services, Vista Unified School District, Law Enforcement, Survivors, Free to Thrive, which offers pro bono legal services to victims, members of multiple area churches, Child Protective Services and Mottino Family YMCA.
“And most importantly, interested individuals who have taken up the task to learn more and share knowledge with their family and friends,” she said.
Van Nevel describes this annual walk as vital for the entire community because it helps resonate an important message.
“This walk recognizes the dedication of North County citizens to continue to provide more services for victims, improved legislation for their protection and create appropriate punishment for those criminals to stop ‘modern-day slavery,’” Van Nevel said.
To learn more about the 13th annual Human Trafficking Awareness Walk as well as meetings championed by the North County Anti-Human Trafficking Collaborative, visit www.soroptimistvista.org.