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Walkathon brings awareness to human trafficking issue

VISTA — A sea of people in blue T-shirts demanding an end to human trafficking walked a mile Jan. 9 to raise awareness of a human rights issue that hits close to home.
In recognition of the U.S. Senate’s National Human Trafficking Awareness Day on Jan. 11, the third Walk for Awareness in downtown Vista shone a spotlight on the existence of human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children within the county.
“This isn’t something that only happens in the far reaches of the globe,” said Paige Mastersen, a participant in the walk. “Human trafficking, the sale of people into slavery, happens right in our own backyards and we are responsible for putting an end to it.”
The event was put together by a collection of groups as part of the
North County Anti-Human Trafficking Collaborative. Kaye Van Nevel, a member of Soroptimist International of Vista, said raising awareness of human trafficking fits well with the group’s mission to advance human rights and the status of women. “It’s such a tough issue,” she said. “Nobody wants to think sexual exploitation of children is happening within our borders.”
In fact, guest speaker Kimberly Hunt, a Channel 10 News anchor who has done several stories on the issue, told the crowd that the region is not immune to the second largest criminal industry in the world. “It is imperative that we here in San Diego realize it’s not a global problem, it’s right under our noses,” she said.
Hunt referenced an open-air brothel that was discovered in a Carlsbad canyon last year. Three human traffickers were convicted in the case according to Hunt.
In addition to the walk, music and guest speakers, the event also showcased other like-minded organizations. Alessandra Colfi and Bob Gilbert manned the Amnesty International booth during the event. “It was a good turnout,” Colfi said. “A lot of people came away with a better awareness of human trafficking and that it happens where we live.” Colfi said that beyond education and awareness, groups are working on enacting legislation to create tougher penalties for offenders.
One passerby stopped to read several T-shirts attached to a line blowing in the gentle wind. As part of the Clothesline Project, youth in the county’s foster care system and juvenile probationers created different colored T-shirts to give a voice to violence against women. “Each color represents the type of abuse the woman experienced and whether she survived,” Van Nevel said. “There are too many blue and green shirts,” said Samuel Doerchas, as he scanned the T-shirts representing survivors of sexual abuse or incest. “It makes it more real when you see the shirts that show what’s happening to women instead of just statistics on a page,” he said.
The support from the community as well as elected officials is evidence that the issue is on people’s radar. “We are overwhelmed by today’s attendance,” Van Nevel said. “Business and community members are becoming more and more involved and the City Council and mayor of Vista has been a tremendous support.”
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