A Florida man’s efforts to boost awareness about human trafficking brought him to Santa Barbara County on Friday.
Roger DeHart has launched his second walk for his No More Miles campaign to highlight human trafficking and the long-lasting effects on victims and the community.
His 526-mile route this summer is taking him along the California coast, and it included stops in Santa Maria and Lompoc.
“It’s so easy to lose sight of the true mission and goal that I promised myself and the survivors of human trafficking,” DeHart said on Facebook.
He noted a recent conversation with a friend who survived human trafficking that reminded him about the mentality he needed for his mission, “and also keeping in mind the life that once had them enslaved.”
“The pain and scars I can’t relate to, but I can allow God to use me to send a message that will help the uninformed,” DeHart wrote.
On Friday morning, Lompoc Mayor Jenelle Osborne, Lompoc police and staff members from the North County Rape Crisis and Child Protection Center met up with DeHart at the Hilton Garden Inn as he began his day’s route.
“We feel that these events are important because every single day many people in the communities we serve are being trafficked and we must all continue to have conversations on how to combat human trafficking,” said Ann McCarty, North County Rape Crisis Center executive director. “Two years ago the average number of people being trafficked per day in Santa Barbara County was eight. My guess is we are about the same if not higher now in our area.
“Good work is being done in Santa Barbara county by the Human Trafficking Task Force but we have a long ways to go,” she added. “Trafficking on the Central Coast is widespread. The vulnerable are targeted and exploited. It’s an underreported crime which is why the task force is so important. But prevention efforts really do take a community and are a priority. Roger’s walk highlights that this is a worldwide problem that continues to need attention.
“He’s but one man on a mission to raise awareness but it’s up to all of us to fight this fight,” McCarty said.
In 2018, DeHart walked more than 1,000 miles from the Broward County, Fla., courthouse to the front steps of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
He said he chose California because of State Department data revealing California as home to three of the top 10 worst child sex-trafficking areas in the United States. They include San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.
Earlier this week, he stopped in San Luis Obispo County, where District Attorney Dan Dow noted DeHart’s campaign “to raise awareness of the evil called human trafficking.”
“Thank you, Roger! Let’s spread the word and end modern slavery,” Dow said on his office’s Facebook page.
DeHart, a Broward County court bailiff, embarked on his grassroots human trafficking awareness campaign in 2018 after spending nearly 20 years watching victims testify in court against their abusers. He said he has seen firsthand the struggles that victims go through to pick up their lives and start over mentally and physically.
“The goal is to raise awareness and to help put in the forefront of people’s minds the lives that have been forever changed,” he said.