A cycling team on a mission swung through town this week.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Coast Life

Peddling with purpose: Sex trafficking awareness at the core of young cyclists’ West Coast mission

The women’s course, which began June 11 in rainy Seattle, aims for an end 51 days later in San Diego.

It starts with the curiosity about the big blue van and the young women on bikes who don’t exactly strike the typical cyclist poses. From there they hope it leads to a conversation about what they’re doing and why.

“I think the one thing that brings us all together is that trafficking happens everywhere we live,” says 20-year-old Hannah Odell, the youngest of the 12 Pedal the Pacific riders that swung through Santa Cruz this week to raise awareness about sex trafficking and meet with the Santa Cruz District Attorney’s Office Tuesday morning. “We’re all from different places but the uniting factor is that sex trafficking happens in Austin, Texas and Arkansas and Missouri. In all these places, sex trafficking is happening right below our noses.

“To come to a place like this, where people are actively caring is just very genuine.”

Santa Cruz County District Attorney Jeff Rossel choked back tears as he talked about the respect his office has for the young women’s cause and conviction.

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“Unlike other crimes, this literally hides in the cracks and the crevices of our society. It’s pervasive, and it cuts across all communities and all segments of our country,” Rossel said. “It’s very difficult to see if you’re unaware. And this is why raising awareness is so important, and what you are doing is raising awareness. It is the first step, and a critical step to combating sexual trafficking.”

The women’s course, which began June 11 in rainy Seattle, aims for an end 51 days later in San Diego. As Rossel emphasized, it is individual stops like these along that journey, meeting with groups like the Arukah Foundation and Monarch Services, that facilitate awareness and funding to help the healing process.

“When you rescue somebody who has been sexually trafficked ... and even when you’re done investigating and prosecuting the case, it’s just the beginning because these folks have had all aspects of their lives stripped away from them,” he said. “They have nothing. Yet they need everything. And this is why what you’re doing in terms of raising money is so important to support facilities and places that will help people become whole again. That will help people rebuild their lives. That’s what you guys are doing. It’s incredible.”