Human trafficking will not be tolerated in Baytown and local organizations made that quite clear Saturday morning.
The Baytown A21 Walk for Freedom saw participants gathers at Rollingbrook Fellowship Church to raise awareness regarding the trafficking of millions of men, women, and children who are trapped in slavery today.
Dozens of walkers met up in ideal weather conditions to walk in silence from the church to the intersection of Garth and Rollingbrook and back with many holding signs and slogans to illustrate their support for the global event held at 475 locations in 50 nations.
“We are trying to create awareness locally,” Kristen Lovett, co-coordinator of the event, said. “It’s a global issue, but a local issue as well. We are fighting it here in the Baytown, Highlands and Mont Belvieu area.”
Lovett said the walk has increased yearly, starting with 20 participants five years to about 200 for Saturday’s event.
Sponsored by Beta Lambda Kappa sorority, the walk has initially raised $685 online and could reach last year’s total donation to A21 of $2,000.
Donations will be taken up until Oct. 31 at www.a21.org/baytown.
“We are on the rise of becoming even larger,” Lovett said.
Lovett said that this is helping ensure that it remains a topic of discussion as 134 various operations, helping 300 victims and over 10,000 hotline calls helped identify victims and ultimately led to the sentencing of 38 traffickers to over 1,000 years in prison.
All money raised goes toward A21 and its ability to fund rescue shelters and transitioning back into society programs for the victims. A21, based out of Australia, is a non-governmental organization that works to fight human trafficking, including sexual exploitation and trafficking, forced slave labor, bonded labor, involuntary domestic servitude, and child soldiery.
Currently there are more recorded slaves than in any time in history.
Of the 27 million projected victims, about five million are forced into sexual exploitation according to an International Labour Organization study as of 2016. Ninety-nine percent are women and girls, seven in 10 are from Asia and Pacific Region, one in seven reported American runaways are likely a victim of It and girls in foster care are vulnerable.
Tiffany Sherman of Elijah Rising, which focuses on trafficking in the Houston area said the crime produces $107M annually alone and 313,000 people are victims – with 79,000 minors.
Sherman said Elijah Rising works to help rebuild the victims through prayer and rehabilitation and has spread its campaign to truck stops, hotels and strip clubs.
“Mighty things are happening,” Sherman said. “Our phone bank tells the girls ‘you are worthy, you are precious, you are loved.’ We give them hope.”
Baytown mayor Brandon Capetillo dedicated Oct. 19, 2019 as A21 Walk for Freedom Day.
“We think we are immune to it in Baytown, but that’s not the case,” Capetillo said.
“I can personally attest to you at least one incident where such things take place in our city. It is certainly good to know we have organizations that try to bring awareness to this worthy cause.”