Christina Van Essen is a fourth-year Public Relations student who will be spending her summer actively pursuing her passion for social justice by participating in Pedal the Pacific, a 1,700 mile charity bike ride geared towards generating awareness to fight sex trafficking. After witnessing the realities of corruption in Austin at a brothel disguised as a massage parlor, she was shocked to see the establishment was located in the middle of a strip mall in plain sight. The feeling of helplessness slowly turned into inspiration, and lead her to pursue social justice in an effort to cause potential change.
Van Essen was selected from a national pool of applicants to be a part of the 2019 cycling team that will venture from Seattle to San Diego. Excited for the journey ahead, she shares her thoughts on the opportunity.
“I long to be a part of PTP because I want to be humbled and to challenge myself to do something that is not for myself, but in rather in support and honor of victims who have suffered and endured far more than I ever will. It is far too easy to go through each day caught up in our comfortable lives and distracted by this world,” Christina says. “I want to become comfortable being uncomfortable.”
The statistics on sex trafficking are horrific. This year, the Steve Hicks School of Social Work reported that there are currently 79,000 young adults and minors being abducted and sold into sex trafficking in Texas alone. They emphasized that this can occur from a combination of individual circumstances, environmental issues and exploiters. Sex trafficking is extremely gendered with women and children accounting for the majority of targets as a result of tactics that include violence, threats, deception and manipulation to coerce participation against their will by perpetrators.
The ride will raise awareness for an Austin based non-profit, The Refuge for DSMT (Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking). The Refuge Ranch operates as a long-term residential community for girls that have been rescued from domestic minor sex trafficking. By ingraining into every survivor’s core belief that they have a purpose and the ability to create a new life, restoration becomes a possible reality. Currently, a total of $250,000 has been committed toward a scholarship fund for girls who can’t afford the care they deserve.
“Through conversations with people we meet down the coast to engaging in support meetings with potential sponsors and donors, I hope to effectively communicate the complexity of the issue and deepen people's understanding of the topic,” Van Essen explains. “All in hopes of empowering them to continue the conversations within their inner circle.”
If you or someone you know would like to donate, please visit https://therefuge.z2systems.com/np/clients/therefuge/donation.jsp?campaign=39&.