Why I Ride

When Words Fail

Hi! My name is Rachel Johnson and I am thrilled and humbled to be a member of the 2022 team!    

Some things about me: I feel most myself when wearing a good pair of jeans, lingering in dinnertime conversation, or journaling beside a cup of black coffee. I call the Midwest home—originally from Wheaton, IL, I’m a senior at Hope College in Holland, MI studying Communication and English. After graduation, I hope to work in nonprofit writing or magazine journalism, always exploring how language honors personal experience and enacts change.

Not surprisingly, my favorite hobby is collecting words. Silly notes between friends, verses of poetry, and screenshots of texts all get tucked away for later encouragement. The words of others shape me, and the best ones truly feel like gold in my pocket.  

After coming across Pedal the Pacific’s Instagram in 2020, I found myself especially drawn to the language and terminology used in anti-trafficking spaces. PTP’s account caught my eye, not just because of its (beautiful!!) pictures of the Pacific Coast, but because it did a great job breaking down the words behind the injustice. Posts defining statistics and resources left me frozen, wondering: why haven’t I heard more about this? Shouldn’t we talk more about it?

When discussed or highlighted in media, terms like survivor, victim, grooming, pimp, or the life all carry weight and issue assumptions.

As an evolving advocate, I am learning that it can feel messy to navigate questions and descriptions of the anti-trafficking movement or what our team is doing this summer. But if we don’t talk about it, nothing is going to change.  

In January at our Team Retreat, I distinctly remember walking away from our final visiting speaker admitting “the more I learn about trafficking, the more I feel like I don’t know.” The teammates beside me quietly nodded in agreement. This feeling has only grown for me as we continue through training and hear from survivors, anti-trafficking professionals, and nonprofit leaders.  

If I know anything, it is that words matter as tools that shape our perceptions of the world. In her memoir Girls Like Us, Rachel Lloyd speaks to the importance of language use surrounding the topic of child exploitation, saying “accurately describing the experiences of children and youth in the sex industry is critical to reframing the conversation and shaping public perception and public policy, and most important, goes toward removing the shame and stigma from victims themselves.”  

Language is important. But the sex trafficking industry and the traumas attached to it are not straightforward, clear-cut puzzles to be reduced to an easy explanation. As I learn, I see that there is power in the grey area—the liminal space where we don’t quite have the words to respond to the details of a survivor’s story, but choose to show up for them anyway. Noticing the incompleteness of language and injustice is not an excuse to check out from the complexities of trafficking. Instead, it is a call to dig deeper because I acknowledge that awareness is just one step on the way to action.  

Sex trafficking is something I don’t quite have the words for. So this summer, I’m trading in well thought out sentences for my bike and a movement that will catch people’s attention. I ride to engage with the complexities of dialogue and advocacy. I ride to lean into the nuances of justice and passion, alongside 10 brave women who I already look up to. Every turn of our tires will be worth it because this mission is worth continuing a conversation about.

December 1, 2023
Madilyn Warner

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