Pedal the Pacific did not exist in my world until just over a year ago; discussions and education about sex-trafficking, admittedly, did not either. Despite my lack of awareness or comprehension of these topics, the catalyst for my passion for this discipline was my budding love for cycling, which is what ultimately drew me towards Pedal the Pacific. In January 2022, I saw that Sophie Harnew-Spradley was sharing her own “Why I Ride” story, and I was compelled to learn more about the program. Once Sophie explained what she was doing with PTP my interest was piqued. Women using bikes for a good cause? Sign me up! But I quickly became disheartened and thought: how could someone who knows almost nothing about sex-trafficking sign up to ride 1,700 miles down the coast to fight against it?
But then I started learning.
I listened to podcasts that told survivor stories; I read the alumni blog posts and was blown away by the humility in which these participants spoke of their own knowledge of sex-trafficking. This helped me realize that, truly, no one is an expert on the nuances of sex trafficking, and the distinct experiences that each survivor faces—their afflictions, their agonies, and their stories are all vastly different and complex. During this journey, I conversed with Sophie, too, who empowered me to continue learning.
Now, my knowledge of sex-trafficking is vastly greater than it was a year ago, but there is still so much ground to cover. I came to this experience with an open-mind and a humble heart. So, why do I ride? Well, that answer is intricate, it involves many branches that grow in different directions as I continue to learn.
At first, and this is still true, I chose to ride because of my ignorance. I am a soon-to-be college graduate and a person who tries to understand and stay up to date on issues in my city, state, and country. But I had never had a conversation about sex-trafficking, and even more so, I had hardly ever read anything about the issue. I choose to ride because this is a topic that, for me, can no longer be ignored, and I want to be a part of starting that conversation for those in my community who feel like me: how does sex-trafficking exist, and no one is talking about it? How do we not know more?
This initial passion for applying to Pedal the Pacific is still there, but my “Why I Ride” evolved drastically after the Pedal the Pacific team retreat last month. We are currently reading a book by Rachel Lloyd called Girls like Us. Rachel is a survivor of sex-trafficking herself and the way she tells her story alongside other women’s stories has been both educational and also heart breaking. While reading and chatting with the team at Retreat, I learned about the realities of sex-trafficking. Here are some of the key takeaways:
The injustice of sex-trafficking is deeply tied to preexisting vulnerabilities, like growing up with a marginalized identity, or within an underprivileged community. A person’s risk for being trafficked increases with generational factors and can even be determined by a person’s zip code. This means that if you are born into a family that is experiencing or has experienced exploitation in the past, or a family that has experienced abuse or neglect, your risk for being exploited and trafficked increases. Likely these families are found in areas of your cities that do not have access to quality education, jobs, housing, or food. Victims often come from broken families that are just trying to get by. Some survivors talk about how they felt they had no other choice, no other way out. Learning about this aspect of sex-trafficking is what impacts me the most and it is now another reason why I ride.
I want to implore you: keep learning. I say “keep” because even taking the time to read this blog means you have taken at least one step, and I appreciate and admire you for that. Beginning your education around sex-trafficking is uncomfortable at best, believe me, I would know. But the more you read, the more you ask questions, and the more you start talking about it, the better advocate you become. I will continue to learn more every single day, my journey has only just started, so please, join me, while we cultivate an advocate—a committed, continual learner—in ourselves that we never knew existed.