Several parishioners and leaders in the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin were motivated to do something against human trafficking — motivated enough to get on a bike Friday morning in Tulare, ride to Visalia and roll up to Hanford’s Episcopal Church of the Saviour at 2 p.m. on a 90-plus degree day.
Parishioners said the goal of the Tour Against Trafficking campaign, which started Oct. 2 and is slated to wrap up Oct. 23, is to raise as much awareness and money as possible to combat an issue that they say is a growing San Joaquin Valley problem.
Bishop David Rice, who participated in the ride Friday, said it’s an injustice many local residents may not be aware of — even though it is probably going on somewhere near where they live.
The human trafficking problem often crops up wherever the commercial sex trade goes on — either because the women are underage or because they are older than 18 but being coerced in some way.
Tour participants say the issue goes beyond the sex trade to include forced labor of any kind.
“Sex and labor trafficking happens in every city in the Central Valley,” said Bishop David Rice.
Rice said the total amount raised by the tour — $30,324 as of 2:45 p.m. Friday — will go to 10 San Joaquin Valley organizations that work to combat trafficking and help to rehabilitate victims.
Several of the organizations are based in Kern, Tulare and Fresno counties. None are headquartered in Kings. They are all listed on the website www.touragainsttrafficking.org.
Not all the organizations are limited to what traditionally might fall under the definition of trafficking. Also included are groups supporting victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse.
People are invited to either donate directly to one of the organizations or give to the Tour Against Trafficking itself.
Rice and other participants said that, because trafficking often happens in the shadows, it may not be prominent on everybody’s radar.
“This is one of the fastest growing crimes in America today,” said Hanford parishioner Terry March, sweating it out at the end of Friday’s ride.
March said trafficking involves the San Joaquin Valley at a minimum because victims bound for San Diego, San Francisco and Los Angeles are often transported through the Valley to be victimized in those major urban hubs.
The tour plans to hit all 18 parish churches in the diocese to emphasize participants’ belief that the issue is a regional concern.
“The entire diocese can come together,” said rider Leif Knutson.