2020 Blog

What I'm learning

Hi! My name is Sophia Nottoli, and I am a recent graduate from the University of Oklahoma. Currently, I am starting my gap year while applying to dental school. Despite all of the chaos over the past few months and the changes within Pedal the Pacific, there is one thing I am sure of: my team and I are going to be able to make a difference in the fight against domestic sex trafficking. We have an extremely unique opportunity to educate people on what is not stopping during this pandemic even when at times, it seems like the whole world is. For example, with schools closed, children with difficult home lives are more vulnerable to exploitation when they have nowhere else to escape the challenges at home. More information on how COVID-19 affects the sex trafficking industry by emphasizing the vulnerabilities that make some people more likely to be manipulated by traffickers can be found here. There are three main things I want to talk about in this post.

  1. The sex trafficking industry is extremely complex, and I’m learning that even when I want to find someone to blame for causing it, it is harder than I imagined. I can blame the buyers and I can blame the pimps, but will demonizing anyone really help fix it? Obviously I feel angry towards them, and they are major parts of the problem, but I’m learning that they are often coming from situations of complex trauma too. This doesn’t excuse their behavior, but it makes me want to learn more about why they do these things. In our book club (reading Girls Like Us by Rachel Lloyd), we have explored the complexities behind pimps and buyers, and it has been challenging to think about these people as actual people with histories instead of as just one dimensional “evil” people. It’s much more difficult to see this as a grey area because it is hard to wrap my mind around them as complex people. Seeing them as purely horrible people seems to follow rules my mind can understand easily. However, that doesn’t solve any problems because it leaves things out. I’m beginning to see that to really understand the industry, I have to recognize all of these uncomfortable things in order to see the full picture.
  2. There is a long history between women and bikes that I have learned about as I become more interested in cycling. One of the first things people hear about women and bicycles focuses on the women’s movements that just included wealthy white women. However, I want to talk about Kittie Knox. She inspires me because she helped create a more intersectional movement for all women and people of color to enjoy social cycling and worked for change, despite standing out as an “unconventional rider.” I think a lot of us in Pedal the Pacific feel like unconventional riders, too. We have started this adventure with little experience, and I have felt awkward asking questions to “real” cyclists at bike shops or meeting up with riding groups (before COVID-19). I am starting to see that it’s okay to challenge what it means to be a “real” cyclist, because what does that even mean? The bicycle has such a rich history in political change, and I’m excited that no matter where we will ride this summer, we will be connected to many great people who have used the bike for similar reasons. My bike has also allowed me to ride in honor of another amazing woman, Minal Cordero, who raised some of the strongest women I know. I am extremely thankful to keep her in my memory and focus on her love of life through my journey with Pedal the Pacific.
  3. Moving to Oklahoma for school has taught me so many things. One of the things I’m most thankful for is my interaction with different groups who came to speak on campus regarding Indigenous people in Oklahoma. I went to a talk earlier this year from a group called Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. and it made me wake up to many people’s experiences that I wasn’t aware of. They use the phrase “No More Stolen Sisters” to discuss the extremely high numbers of Indigenous women who are murdered or go missing, often at the hands of non-Native people. This inspired me to learn more about Indigenous peoples who are sex trafficked, why they are at risk, and how lack of communication between local, state, and tribal law enforcement makes these issues difficult to investigate. It is amazing to learn about the work that many Indigenous people are doing now to help stop trafficking in their communities that can be explored here. One quote that summarizes why Indigenous girls are at high risk for sex trafficking is:

“The high rates of poverty and hardship in tribal communities; historical trauma and culture loss; homelessness and runaway youth; high rates of involvement with child welfare systems, including entry into the foster care system; exposure to violence in the home or community; drug and alcohol abuse; and low levels of law enforcement all add up to a community rich in targets for traffickers”

I’m excited that Pedal the Pacific is still happening even if it doesn’t look like I thought it would when I joined the team. Regardless, I am lucky to have this opportunity to work with amazing women to fight against domestic sex trafficking and it is still incredibly important to know that The Refuge for DMST and NCMEC still need our help! We are still fundraising, and we would love you to follow along and help us with our mission. We are still a resource for you to ask questions and learn about the fight against sex trafficking. Thank you for all of your support!

Best,
Sophia

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