I’ve always been called opinionated, stubborn, argumentative, defensive, and maybe a little too loud. I jump at the chance to debate about something I care about, and I have a habit of not knowing when to say when. I’ve been told that these are my biggest weaknesses, but I have learned that they are my greatest strengths. To me, these traits translate to a burning passion for advocacy and a drive for change.
But it wasn’t until I arrived at GCU freshman year that I had this realization. I joined a team where, for the past year and a half now, I have had the opportunity to build relationships with trafficking survivors that reside in Phoenix.
It didn’t take me long to realize that this cause is what breaks my heart and, simultaneously, makes me come alive; cue the changing of my major and trajectory of my life.
The more I have learned about the realities of trafficking throughout that time, the angrier I have become. There is simply not enough space in this post or words to say that would sum up my anger for the unrighteousness and unjust realities of trafficking. My reason for riding is ever-evolving, but I’ll try to walk you through the things that have fueled my passion up until this point.
I was naive walking into the Phoenix Dream Center the first time, I don’t know what I was expecting, but I am sure it followed suit with the common stigmas and misconceptions that are fed to us all. The media has a habit of depicting hurting and exploited people as villains; they are ostracized, and described as addicts and perpetrators; it is implied that victims chose the life and that they would leave if they really wanted. It wasn’t until I sat with survivors that I realized I had it all wrong. I sat with a woman who wept as she read me her poetry and prayers about being trafficked since she was eleven years old by her father. During a self-care day, I watched volunteers help residents with face masks. The girl sitting next to me had a tear falling down her cheek as she asked me, “How do they trust you enough to close their eyes?”. I was moved by these moments that I shared with survivors. I was moved by their bravery in sharing their stories with me, and I was reminded of our shared humanity. They write poetry and have dreams of going to fashion school and love to sing karaoke. They are people just like you and me. It is by some chance that I was born into my life and not theirs,I did nothing to deserve the privilege that I was born into. And the survivors and victims of trafficking did nothing to deserve the deep hurt that they experience. Their worth and identity aren’t and never should have been, tied to the amount of money they can make or how many men want them. So the first reason I ride is to end the stigmas and misconceptions through educating others, to encourage people to give survivors a seat at their table,and to truly listen to their voices and their stories.
It wasn’t until my journey with Pedal the Pacific and reading Girls Like Us by Rachel Lloyd, that a wave of new anger was unleashed within me. This fire came with the hearing of the experience of victims within the criminal justice system. Rachel Lloyd writes of her experience with the system as a survivor and as the founder and CEO of GEMS, “I watched sexually exploited girl after girl arrested and charged with an act of prostitution and struggled with getting the cops, the courts, the families, even the girls themselves to believe that they were truly victims, when the law said they were criminals” (2011, p. 139). If victims do risk their lives to escape and find who is supposed to help them, they are often arrested instead of their pimps.
They are told they should have left sooner or that they are lying about it all; so how is it expected that they leave somewhere they are familiar with, where they feel like they belong, only to be met with accusatory fingers pointing at them? The system in place is broken and failing; victims and survivors need systemic change, they need to know that people honor their survival. So the second reason I ride is for the victims whose voices were silenced and whose experiences were not believed or validated. I ride for justice; to end the criminalization of victims and to give just punishment to their abusers.
The night before submitting this post, I sat on the floor of a close friend’s dorm room. I talked to her about how I couldn’t put all of my thoughts together, and that there are too many pieces that I care about to include all of them. I told her how I have always struggled to understand how no one seems to be as angry as me; how can so many people hear about sex trafficking and move on with their days like it is not happening right in front of their eyes? She told me that the world is unfair, and that evil things happen. That I can share statistics and pieces of my heart, but the truth is that people may keep moving without a second thought.
But, we should continue to share, with the hope that the same passion will ignite in someone that hears us, that they may come alongside us and join the fight.
I am sure I will be searching for the right words the whole way down the coast, and I will probably never find them. But I can ride a bike, and I can hope that I will cross paths with even one person and ignite a fire in them that was ignited in me a year and a half ago. A burning passion for freedom and justice. So, the last reason I ride is because it is the least I can do to show up with all that I have, to remind myself that the breath in my lungs and burning in my legs as I pedal is a privilege; and that sex trafficking won’t die out unless we kill it ourselves.